The Future of WiFi in APAC

Sudarshan Boosupalli- Country Head India and SAARC-Ruckus Networks

By Sudarshan Boosupalli, Country Head India and SAARC, Ruckus Networks

We’ve come to the point where it can be reasonably argued that WiFi should be included in as part of the lowest level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, sitting alongside physiological needs essential to human survival such as food, water, warmth and rest. Just as every person needs to have access to the basic elements that support life, internet connectivity is now considered a must-have by people from all walks of life.

Today, you can find WiFi networks just about anywhere, whether homes, offices, shopping malls or public spaces. Looking beyond WiFi as a simple implementation of connectivity, there is increasing use of WiFi as a strategic connector of interlinked devices and systems. All these networks didn’t just pop up, as they were put in place to address the increasing number of connected devices coming online. In fact, Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things would be in use worldwide this year, with that number reaching 20.4 billion by 2020. A significant number of these connected devices, including smartphones and sensors, are an integral part of our daily lives, or play an essential role in ensuring our safety and well-being.

That growth represents a great opportunity for companies like Ruckus, and with that in mind, we’d like to share three key trends that we see shaping the future of WiFi in APAC for years to come.

Unlimited Data Plans
Unlimited data gained traction in the early years of the modern smartphone era, as service providers rushed to capitalise on the demand for smartphones, only to begin introducing data caps as existing networks began to buckle under the strain of all the demand for 3G connectivity. Fast forward a few years later, carriers have put newer infrastructure in place, and are much better equipped to deliver faster mobile connectivity, resulting in the return of unlimited data plans. In Malaysia, for example, mobile operator upstart Webe offers a no-contract postpaid plan with unlimited data, voice and text starting from just RM79 (~US$20) monthly. In India, operator Reliance Jio announced an unlimited data plan with no daily data cap, with the competition reacting by cutting prices to match.

However, with increasing demand for high-bandwidth content-driven services like Netflix and Spotify the world over, data traffic growth through the next few years will be astonishing. In Asia Pacific, the growth in data consumption is forecast to be between 30-60% per annum, between 2015 and 2020, driven by a number of factors including rich content, big data analytics, smart cities, social media and growing broadband penetration in the region.

With increasing data generation and consumption especially in growth markets such as India, cellular networks might not able to cope with the insatiable appetite for data, especially with unlimited data plans back on the table. This makes the use of WiFi technologies one of the best options to deliver on end-user broadband needs while letting operators effectively manage both capital and operating expenditure by tightly integrating both LTE and WiFi for a more seamless user experience. By having a high-quality managed WiFi service to augment mobile networks, service providers can ensure quality of service is maintained, which positively affects customer retention. In turn, costs are kept in check, as customer acquisition costs tend to be high.

Broadband for the Next Billion People
About two-thirds of the global population are mobile subscribers, numbering about 5 billion as of Q2 2017 according to data from GSMA Intelligence. However, the rate of growth is slowing; it took four years to get from 4 billion to the 5 billion mark, and reaching 6 billion users will take even longer.
Largely rural populations in developing countries, the lack of fixed line infrastructure, as well as low incomes and affordability, make it a challenge to extend coverage. However, technology firms like Google and Facebook are taking the lead on bringing connectivity to developing markets. Google, for example, currently offers high-speed WiFi at 50 railroad stations in partnership with Indian Railways, with the aim of eventually offering WiFi connectivity to 400 stations nationwide.

Facebook on the other hand, has Express Wi-Fi, which enables those in rural parts of India to purchase affordable data from local internet service providers. A pilot version of the program, in partnership with a state-owned telecoms provider, is currently live at 125 rural WiFi hot spots in the country.

Initiatives such as these underscore the advantages that WiFi networks bring to service providers, in terms of simplicity of deployment and management, as well as the far lower costs involved, in last-mile connectivity. As such, WiFi networks are perfectly placed to help play a significant role in connecting the next billion.

Smarter Cities
The United Nations estimated that in 2016, 1.7 billion people, or 23% of the world population lived in a city with at least 1 million inhabitants. By 2030, that number is projected to rise to 27%. Closer to home, most of the world’s fastest growing cities are in Asia. As such, ensuring that these cities will be able to accommodate the influx of new residents while ensuring quality of life in urban environments is more important than ever.

To tackle the major challenges that urbanization brings, smart cities like Songdo in South Korea have been built from the ground up to embrace connectivity; everything from buildings to street lights are connected to each other and to the Internet, via WiFi.

For older cities, WiFi technologies can be used to replace fixed lines and copper cables, enabling the population to get and stay connected whatever their device or location. This is especially pertinent as public spaces are often subject to regulations that restrict cellular coverage indoors, paving the way for WiFi to be optimal in highly frequented public spaces such as shopping malls and airports.

In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority rolled out WiFi connectivity on the island state’s numerous Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations with the Wireless@SG program. WiFi connectivity let commuters enjoy an always-connected journey, essential for those who check email or social media during the commute. WiFi hotspot placement also played a role in crowd management strategy, encouraging crowd displacement to areas with better connectivity. More importantly, data collected from the hotspots enabled richer insights into crowd behaviour to improve public transport service delivery.

Urban connectivity also helps with data crowdsourcing to provide citizens access to information that would be otherwise hard to obtain. For example, the city of Jakarta crowdsources social media data to help track floods and other natural disasters via the PetaBencana online service.

With smart cities, technology can play a role in helping build better communities and empower social transformation through better efficiency, and in ways that adapt to residents’ needs. Whether through matters of public transportation systems to citizen services or even issues of sustainability, smart city technologies provide meaningful solutions to the challenges of aging civic infrastructure and urban planning decisions that weren’t made with a long-term view. For any country and its cities, in Asia and the world over, reaping the opportunities of a connected economy will require robust communications networks that deliver reliable connectivity to the millions of connected devices and sensors that keep our lives and cities running.