Investing in WiFi

Universal connectivity provided by WiFi technology makes accessing and sharing data uncomplicated.

Read time 4min 40sec

A recent survey by Maravedis Rethink forecasts that in four years' time, there will be one hotspot for every 20 people on the planet, compared with one for every 150 today. This highlights the importance of this technology as the industry moves towards new standards and trends that make it easier to access WiFi networks at home and abroad, paving the way for a new wave of increased WiFi uptake and usage.

For example, operators now want to deploy next-generation hotspot (NGH) technology to make it easier for end-users to access WiFi hotspots and replicate the cellular mobile broadband experience, in terms of ease of access and security. Another example is global WiFi roaming, which is designed to facilitate public WiFi growth.

A service called international WiFi roaming extends WiFi connectivity to users who travel to locations outside of their domestic service's footprint and wish to use WiFi hotspots as if at home. Efforts to standardise international WiFi roaming agreements were accelerated by the establishment of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, an organisation aimed at securing an outstanding user experience through the global deployment of next-generation WiFi.

This ubiquitous wireless connectivity provided by WiFi technology makes accessing and sharing data uncomplicated. Connecting to WiFi hotspots in hotels, airports or public arenas all over the world may be easy, but issues surrounding security for WiFi have caused much frustration for users and service providers for as long as WiFi has been around.

Up for grabs

Using Internet at public hotspots can bring with it huge risks, as most public WiFi hotspots do not encrypt the data transmitted through their networks. This means sensitive information, such as e-mail passwords, bank account and credit card information, is available for hackers to steal.

Thankfully, awareness to address these hitches is growing rapidly. Solutions on the market, particularly 802.11u, PassPoint, Wi-Fi 2.0 and Hotspot 2.0, have contributed to making WiFi security more robust. One of my favourite approaches is to deploy a WiFi network using WPA2, which provides both security and privacy.

A WiFi network will be protected by doing the following:

* Enable WPA2-Personal (aka WPA2-PSK) with AES encryption;
* Change the network name (SSID) from the default name;
* Change the administrative credentials (username and password) that control the configuration settings of the access point/router/gateway;
* Create a network passphrase that meets recommended guidelines; and
* Enable WPA2 security features on the client device and enter the passphrase for the network.

In spite of the security risks, WiFi will always remain popular.

In spite of the security risks, WiFi will always remain popular. WiFi technology is versatile. Businesses often use WiFi to attract clients and increase their revenue, as people on the go require easy and cheap Internet access. It is deeply ingrained into consumer lifestyles, as many don't even think twice about connecting their devices at home, in the office and at coffee shops. WiFi is even compatible with almost every gaming device and operating system.

As such, WiFi is truly growing beyond its roots, from best-effort to mission-critical, from private to public networks, from indoor to outdoor, and from isolated networks to large-scale integrated access networks.

Free for all

Big progress is being made in the advancement of WiFi hotspot capability. There is a significant effort to provide WiFi hotspots that are even easier to use, provide advanced capabilities, and can integrate with broader cellular mobile networks. Best of all, a growing number of companies and cities have started initiatives to provide cities, towns and suburbs all across Africa with free WiFi access, in a bid to close the digital gap.

Project Isizwe, a non-profit, is one such project, which aims to bring the Internet to people across SA by facilitating the roll-out of free WiFi for public spaces in low-income communities. All this will pave the way for WiFi to play a vital role in creating a better quality of life.

Imagine how public safety services can be improved by using devices with WiFi connectivity to simply send instant emergency scene information. In the healthcare industry, WiFi can help save valuable minutes or seconds in several ways, such as the enablement of tools to get patients to the right location, generating alarms, accessibility of services feedback and queue times, as well as the monitoring of resource utilisation around a hospital. Another idea is the creation of WiFi hotspots for whole cities, which will bring about seamless access to greater productivity and services, and this in turn will help to improve urban development and economic growth.

Insights by McKinsey's predict if Internet penetration grows in the same way as that of mobile phones on the continent, it could contribute as much as 10% - $300 billion - of the continent's total GDP by 2025. Consequently, SA is taking the benefits of universal connectivity seriously. The Department of Communications, in partnership with the ICT industry, has a mandate to deliver 100% broadband penetration by 2020. If this target is reached, the ideal groundwork will then be laid for WiFi offload strategies to be widely deployed, making it a worthwhile investment for revolutionary advancements in the future.

Kameshwar Rao Sorda

solutions director at Huawei Enterprise Business Group of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Kameshwar Rao Sorda is solutions director at Huawei Enterprise Business Group of Eastern and Southern Africa. He serves a key role within the IP Solutions team for the group. Sorda has piloted a number of groundbreaking campus network projects as regional project leader and has organised various internal knowledge events to facilitate the adoption of new technology from Huawei. In addition, he has co-ordinated partnership programmes with key players within the industry. Sorda worked as a senior consultant for Barclays Absa, where he was responsible for roll-out development strategies, before joining Huawei in 2011.

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