South Africans are set to experience the next evolution in mobile connectivity, as Internet Solutions and AlwaysOn launched the first of many carrier-grade Wi-Fi solutions at Cradlestone Mall this month.
With plans to roll-out nationwide to other key high-density retail environments within the next 12 months, as well as transport hubs like airports, carrier-grade Wi-Fi is set to revolutionise the mobile computing experience for end-users.
According to Hayden Lamberti, business unit manager: Enterprise Mobility at Internet Solutions, carrier-grade Wi-Fi has the capacity to cope with the large data volumes commonly associated with high-density public locations like malls and transport hubs, while still enabling the consumption of rich media content like video, video chat, VoIP, content sharing, social media and augmented reality.
“Users of carrier-grade Wi-Fi will be able to access rich media content, or data intensive enterprise applications while on the go, in a way that wasn't previously possible on standard public Wi-Fi. For retail environments like Cradlestone Mall, this has the potential to open up a world of immersive, interactive shopping experiences for customers, and it will also allow them to share their experiences online in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Business users, on the other hand, will benefit from a high speed, reliable connection back into the company network to conduct faster, more efficient business while on the move,” he continues.
Carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks provide a host of direct, targeted marketing opportunities for shop owners, companies and big brands within these environments.
“This is a new sponsorship and advertising opportunity, and a rich content distribution channel for marketers. As such we expect carrier-grade Wi-Fi to become fully sponsored and therefore free to the end-users,” says Lamberti.
Interest from marketers is set to make this media and content funding model a reality. “With options like paid-for content distribution, free bandwidth for clicking on landing pages, integrated online promotions, and other rich media push advertising opportunities, carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks in retail environments offer a new frontier in consumer engagement.”
The solution also has the potential to change the retail environment, as different technologies can be incorporated to engage consumers, says to Lamberti. “Promo screens can be operated on the fly and updated with real-time information when they are connected to the Internet. This has the potential to create a more interactive public environment for shoppers.”
With the experience Internet Solutions has gained through the provisioning and management of South Africa's largest public Wi-Fi network in the form of AlwaysOn Hotspots, the unique combination of the company's specialised carrier and connectivity business units, and the Wireless LAN expertise of parent company Dimension Data, Lamberti believes that the company is ideally placed to enter and pioneer the carrier-grade Wi-Fi market.
“This combination of experience and expertise means we're able to provide the end-to-end infrastructure required to deliver carrier-grade Wi-Fi. From reticulating the location with fibre internally, and supplying fibre infrastructure to the curb, to the provisioning and management of the internal network environment, as well as the content distribution network, there are few players in the industry who are able to operate in the carrier grade Wi-Fi space on this level,” he explains.
“We have therefore adopted an aggressive expansion strategy for this solution, and already have a pipeline of additional retail sites that we will be launching very soon. We therefore expect that all feasible retail and transport hub locations will be equipped with this solution within the next nine to 12 months,” concludes Lamberti.