WiFi roaming

by david.nunes
Igor ZabolotniyIssue:Europe II 2008
Article no.:15
Topic:WiFi roaming
Author:Igor Zabolotniy
Title:Acting General Director
Organisation:MTT – Multiregional Transit Telecom, Russia
PDF size:308KB

About author

Igor Zabolotniy is the Acting General Director of MTT (Multiregional TransitTelecom), where he served previously as Deputy General Director for Commerce. Prior to MTT, Mr Zabolotniy served in a number of executive positions including as Deputy General Director for Marketing at the Russian Satellite Communications Company (Federal State Unitary Enterprise) and as General Director of OJSC Dalsvyaz. He also worked as Acting Director and Head of the Marketing and Sales Department at JSC Svyazinvest, and as Acting Director – Head of General Service Operation Department at JSC Rostelecom. Mr Zabolotniy graduated from both the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics, and the Federal Institute of Industrial Property. He earned an MBA degree from The Academy of National Economy under the Government of the Russian Federation.

Article abstract

WiFi hotspots are essential for travellers and for those who work in the field; they look for them as avidly as travellers in a desert seek an oasis. According to Gartner there are 50 thousand public hotspots serving 60 million people and generating US$9 billion in revenue. WiFi roaming is complex. WiFi aggregators in many countries, including Russia, eliminate the need for operators to sign separate roaming agreements with operators the world over to provide roaming connectivity for their subscribers.

Full Article

Hotspot users, being extra-mobile people, face a crucial problem roaming with WiFi. Demand for WiFi service is high and growing. According to Insight Research Corporation, the number of WiFi business users will increase year by year. It is no wonder, then, that most hotels, cafés and restaurants in the USA, Europe and Asia are equipped with WiFi hotspots. Specialized Internet cafés, as with most services, tend to close at 8 to 9pm, so for travellers, WiFi is the only way to access the Internet after 9pm. Travelling executives find it much easier to use WiFi connection in a hotel room, than to search for an Internet café in an unfamiliar city after a busy day. It is a perfect opportunity for Internet providers and mobile operators to increase their customers’ loyalty. The WiFi hotspots market is rapidly growing. According to Gartner Dataquest, by the end of 2008 there will be over 150 thousand hotspots worldwide, serving some 60 million users and earning about US$9 billion. The Asia and Pacific region is growing most rapidly, but the most intensive WiFi penetration – 72 per cent – is in North America and Europe with 70 thousand hotspots in use by the end of last year. The overwhelming majority of networks have roaming agreements with other networks and hotspot aggregators. WiFi hotspot services are increasingly popular in our country; J’son & Partners analysts expect there will be over 13 thousand hotspots operating in Russia by the end of the current year – about 9.4 thousand more hotspots than last year. Currently, most of the demand in the Russian WiFi market is to provide roaming for subscribers to third party national and foreign operators’ WiFi networks. This has stimulated Russian WiFi operators’ interest in providing WiFi to their subscribers. We expect that five to six per cent of subscribers to the services provided by Russian WiFi operators will also roam. Hotspot aggregators are playing the main role in the development of this market by negotiating multilateral roaming contracts with a variety operators. Because of these multilateral contracts, an operator’s subscribers can access not only his own carrier’s hotspots, but also those of all the other carriers who have made similar contracts with the same aggregator. Without aggregators, hotspot operators would have to negotiate separate bilateral roaming agreements with every individual hotspot operator. There is currently only one WiFi hotspot aggregator providing national and international roaming in Russia. The number of hotspots in the RF (Russian Federation) doubles every two years, but are they profitable for their owners? Up to one-third of WiFi hotspot services are free of charge to users; they serve simply to attract tourist customers to cafés and restaurants. No doubt, the driving force behind the popularization of WiFi networks comes from the user’s need to stay in touch long cultivated by cellular network operators. As the availability of WiFi grows, and laptop computers, pocket PC and smart phones, all with built in WiFi as a standard option, become more available, WiFi will grow apace. However not every resident user is willing to download information at the price of tens of cents per megabyte, as it is easier and less expensive to do the same from home or office. Public WiFi networks aim mostly at travelling professionals – mobile employees working away from their home city or office – and tourists. These users away from their home networks must connect to the network of a WiFi roaming operator. The procedure to connect to a WiFi network of most providers is essentially the same. The user needs a WiFi enabled device – a computer, pocket PC or smart phone with an embedded WiFi adapter, and a prepaid card. One must register on the provider’s website and get a personal account. There are a number of ways to pay – including MoneyWeb, mobile phone credits or credit cards among others. What is WiFi roaming? WiFi roaming, both national and international, makes it possible for subscribers to use the WiFi network of an operator in a region they are visiting, by entering a login and password assigned by their home WiFi operator. Moreover, all of the subscriber’s payments for traffic while visiting other networks – the roaming service itself – are settled with their home operator. This makes it easier to use WiFi hotspots while travelling, as there is no need to buy scratch-cards from different carriers or find other ways to connect to their networks. No doubt, WiFi is very profitable for carriers as well, as it creates opportunities to gain extra income and increase subscribers’ loyalty. The Russian WiFi aggregator, connects their facilities to its own WiFi roaming node, and when a visitor registers in a local hotspot, provides AAA traffic transmission (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) between itself and the visitor’s home network, collects tariff data for settlement among WiFi operators, and transfers quotas of subscribers to its roaming partner operators. In the case of international roaming, AAA traffic is also transferred through a WiFi roaming node. WiFi network aggregators carry out all settlements between visiting and home operators, and provide inter-carrier exchange of authentication traffic, collection of all the necessary carrier class tariff information for settlements, and coordinates all interactions between service providers. For international roaming, several large foreign aggregators require exact hotspot identification and the support of an intelligent customer ‘connection assistant’ for incoming roaming to Russian networks. Russian aggregators must provide an interface to the equipment used by Russian operators – which does not fully correspond to international requirements – in order to interact appropriately with the equipment used by foreign operators and aggregators. WiFi roaming for business The number of people who are obliged to stay constantly online for business reasons is increasing every day. How can WiFi roaming help them? • Mobility – the opportunity to receive wireless access wherever there is a friendly WiFi network; • Simplicity and convenience of payment – there is no need to bear the extra expense of purchasing services locally in addition to that already paid to the ‘home provider’ for access. This is typical for those who pay for Internet services from corporate funds; • Safe and secure payment for services – in many countries the services of local WiFi operators are paid by credit cards via the Internet; WiFi roaming obviates the need to provide credit card details to an unknown ISP; and • An opportunity to get services at best prices. Prospects for WiFi International WiFi roaming service recently became available in Russia, when a contract was signed with Comfone, a huge Swiss hotspot aggregator that uses the WeRoam trademark. The WeRoam network includes over 35 thousand hotspots from 54 WiFi operators in 62 countries of Europe, America, Asia, Australia and Africa. The first stage, after testing, offers one-way roaming that lets Russian WiFi subscribers connect to WeRoam’s hotspots. In the near future, two–way roaming will give WeRoam subscribers travelling in Russia and CIS countries access to local hotspots. In the near future, WiFi roaming will be available in all regions of Russia and the CIS countries. Later, a new business model will be implemented to allow Russian cellular company subscribers to use SMS, to get a login and password for Internet access through a domestic or foreign WiFi hotspot.

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