Internet should be everywhere. That’s not a campaign slogan, but the order of things in this age. Don’t take my word for it or think it’s all these local internet providers trying to make more money.
Sadly the way internet is being offered to all of us today won’t really get us to this connectivity Utopia. The models are competition driven and hinge on customer retention more than outright disruption or purely innovation. It’s as if internet Service Providers (ISPs) will only give you enough to make you stay but not more than is absolutely necessary.
Fibre solutions are rolled out in a stop-and-go approach that may not bring about the momentum required to quell the growing appetite. This is why guys like Saisai Wireless got the idea to offer affordable internet to everyone, both stationary and on the go, as opposed to just internet to the home.
Saisai’s model seeks to maximise the unused bandwidth at your office while you are at home, the capacity from operators after hours as well as the fibre lying idle and unused because subscription has been low.
This manipulation of fibre and its unused capacity partially explains why TelOne launched an affordable WiFi service, just like what ZOL (a Liquid Telecom subsidiary) had been doing. This utilisation of idle capacity also justifies the Econet Dream bundles and Day Bundles.
All this dovetails into the evolution of Zimbabwean broadband. Yesteryear’s solutions were largely about broadband backhaul, with every provider digging a cobweb of connections across and linking up every major city.
Recently the focus has been on finding the retailing model that works in an evolving market, a situation which has seen a new wave in internet affordability. But still that is not enough. It looks like wireless connections all over the place are the way Internet will become ubiquitous.
Brace for a WiFi world
WiFi is set to experience a phenomenal growth as a genuine challenger for mobile data, or as the offload channel through which most mobile traffic shall be handled. A recent Juniper report estimates that WiFi will carry 60% of data traffic by 2019 dominating the workplace and the household.
When this happens, WiFi hotspots will cease to be just access points offering patchy connections. Instead, whole metropolitan regions will be covered and WiFi will be everywhere. It will be found in the home, schools, coffee shops, bus termini, stadiums, food parlors and every point of social and formal convergence.
More people will require WiFi but will choose the plan that brings it to their device at minimum to no cost. Mobile operators and internet service providers shall find it cumbersome to bring internet access to the home and at the same time consumers will refuse the cost of bringing fibre to the home.
As such, internet access provision will be more elaborate in developing a connectivity layer on top of the fibre. Providers will offer WiFi packages independent of operator or internet service provider depending on location. It will not matter whether you are subscribed to Powertel or TelOne, internet in your household will be brought to you via a neighborhood WiFi router installed by an access provider.
In the long run, it won’t be necessary to own the infrastructure that brings WiFi to the home such as the ADSL line or the VSAT receiver unless absolutely necessary. Internet Access Providers will distribute access devices across suburbia connecting a mesh network back hauled by various fibre providers.
A router placed at house A or a tower light can provide access to homesteads in a 300 meter radius. IAP devices will grab whatever connection is convenient and distribute it to consumers.
As access providers become more innovative, we will see the advent of mobile WiFi hotspots such as in the Saisai model of WiFi in kombis. It wont be efficient for TelOne, for example, to have 100 hotspots in the CBD at night when most users are more concentrated in the residential locations.
At the same time it will not be practical to have the hotspots in the house when the need is more prevalent in the CBD. Instead IAPs will assume the role of providing mobile hotspots and access points fitted in kombis, taxis and private vehicles riding on the fibre back haul so that capacity will always be available where the demand is.
More advanced WiFi services such as WiFi calling (Vo-WiFi) and Next Generation WiFi hotspots (NGH) that overcome the need to sign onto a network but offer a smooth transition from hotspot to hotspot or network to network will become commonplace.
Mobile network operators will try to provide more services running on their infrastructure such as GPS services, IoT (Connected Car, connected homes etc), market data and analytics, mobile television and broadcasting and so forth to try and recuperate from the predictable loss of voice consumption. Voice consumption may actually go down to such an extent that we will see the return of appealing contracts such as prepaid monthly plans with unlimited voice calls.
As government steps up on connectivity, we will most likely see municipality WiFi being installed to support sectors like tourism and public communication.
eGovernance services will be availed to the general public to de-congest government offices especially in Home Affairs and Finance as the cost savings resulting from ICT become more and more evident or simply as public demand for such services increases. Government collection agents such as ZIMRA and ZINARA have already taken the initiative through the ZIMRA portal and ZINARA prepaid card.
The future of WiFi is exciting and offers a lot of opportunities especially for VAS entrepreneurs. Combined with the opportunities created by digitisation, Zimbabwe might just become one connected village regardless of whether one resides in rural or urban areas.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by daydreams and fantasies like this WiFi projection. The best thing for now is to snap back to reality and keep in mind that it’s still $1 for 100 MB, $1 for 250 MB a day or $5 for 1 GB.