Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How R&E networks and universities can earn revenue from their WiFi networks

[As I blogged several times before I believe there is a  significant revenue opportunity for R&E networks and universities by integrating their campus Wifi networks with commercial 3G/4G networks.
 Not only will this provide the possibility of new revenue sources, but it will help spur on the next generation of eInfrastructure or cyber-infrastructure. It also may create a new major market for the commercial sector.  An important role for R&E networks is to create new disruptive business opportunities.  For example, R&E networks were first to demonstrate the opportunity of customer owned dark fiber, Internet exchange points, federated authentication, etc. These initial market disruptive solutions have now enabled entire new commercial eco-systems to develop.  I think the same opportunity presents itself with the integration of WiFi and 3G networks.

Cell phone companies are desperate for  additional bandwidth and partnering with public sector institutions makes a lot of sense as universities, libraries and schools usually have large footprints in major towns and  cities.  But rather than negotiating one on one with cell phone companies, R&E networks can play a critical role in negotiating national strategies.  SURFnet for example has done this cloud computing where it negotiated a national umbrella agreement for cloud services for its member institutions. It is now exploring the same arrangement to provide national mobile cell phone service for researcher and students.

 See and for more details.  Below are some excerpts from additional pointers on this subject – BSA]

Making Your Wi-Fi Free to Roam

According to a Cisco product manager, operators are becoming more interested in Wi-Fi roaming, which could enable consumers to hop onto more Wi-Fi networks and may even make such hopping seamless.

I first wrote about Wi-Fi roaming over a year ago, after talking to an executive at BelAir Networks, which makes carrier-grade Wi-Fi equipment. Its gear was later used for the shared Wi-Fi network for Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Comcast in New York. But in general, carriers remained skeptical about share Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi roaming. However, Chris Kozup, director of Borderless Networks at Cisco, says thanks to the growing importance of network offload, the reluctance to share Wi-Fi may be diminishing.
“One of the things we’ve been driving aggressively with the Wireless Broadband Alliance are roaming agreements between carriers for Wi-Fi. There’s a lot of work to define those rules, but it’s a natural thing in the cellular market today and we’d like to drive that same experience in the Wi-Fi environment,” Kozup said in an interview last Thursday.

Already, carriers are trying on some interesting business models around Wi-Fi, outside of just offering their customers free connections. For example, some carriers are talking to enterprise or college campuses where existing Wi-Fi networks are in operation and volunteering to manage those networks for the campus, in order to let their customers roam onto that network or use it, Kozup said. In the past, carriers would have no interest in managing a Wi-Fi network for a corporate customer, but today, Wi-Fi is so important to their business that they are now changing their minds.

The rationale for Wi-Fi roaming is simple. Carriers need it to deliver a good customer experience. The demand for mobile data will far exceed the capacity of cellular networks according to most sources, so having a decent alternative network that can handle data makes sense. Cisco, for example, predicts that mobile data will grow 26-fold in the next four years. Much of that growth will come from video, which is more challenging to stream over networks, since it depends on a continuous connection of bits that are assembled in real time to make up the content, as opposed to a single download that can be reassembled later.

With most tablets and smart phones already containing Wi-Fi radios, and more and more places rolling out Wi-Fi networks, it’s not unreasonable to expect most of the mobile traffic to travel over Wi-Fi networks — so long as customers don’t have to go through a lot of effort and expense to get onto one. Wi-Fi roaming takes care of that on the carrier back end and could end up costing the consumer nothing. The integration of Wi-Fi into a carrier network that roaming would require is already taking place, and represents the future of carrier networks as the mobile web and the web eventually become one.

Wi-Fi connects the uOttawa community

When bringing wireless connectivity to the staff and students at the University of Ottawa proved a challenge, university CIO Sylvain Chalut partnered with Bell Business Markets to provide the necessary expertise and support. The university wasn’t entirely new to the wireless world; it had supplied wireless connections to researchers on an ad hoc basis. But with the turn of the century—and increases in Wi-Fi hotspots around the university—expectations for wireless connectivity across the university’s two campuses grew.

“Students and faculty were no longer asking for wireless, but demanding it,” Chalut explains. “They started arriving on campus with laptops. Now, students are even moving away from laptops to other wireless Internet-capable devices.”

The university found that despite its IT team’s experiences with wireless, it needed a partner to guide and support a large-scale implementation of more than 2,300 access points in more than 35 buildings. In 2007, it launched an RFP and selected Bell Canada’s Business Markets, because its consulting team had the engineering skills and architectural expertise to meet the university’s needs.

It was a true partnership, where Bell provided expertise in project management, consultation and integration, allowing the university staff to focus on infrastructure enhancements. Bell also provided training and knowledge transfer on new wireless technologies. Chalut says, “Bell worked with us to design and implement a solution that was secure, scalable and flexible. We worked together to find solutions that best suited the needs of our users.”

The size and scope of the university is like that of a small city, with growing and evolving needs. Its community of staff and students represent a range in technology experience and needs, creating a challenge in ensuring proper security.

“We wanted to have the ability to protect our users and ensure that their wireless experience was a safe one; it was a big priority for us to provide secure connections for our users,” said Chalut.

In addition, unlike an enterprise environment that has control over the devices on the network, the university had to instead create an infrastructure (and security mechanisms) that could handle the increasing variety of devices—iPhones, smartphones, netbooks, tablets—with which students connect.

With its new inter-campus wireless infrastructure, the university in partnership with Bell has improved the way uOttawa does business, assists studies and interacts with one another.

“Professors tell me that the wireless network has brought back to the university a sense of community that had been lost. The community is connecting more to tools and resources but especially more with each other,” says Chalut. With Bell’s flexible and scalable solution, these connections will surely grow and strengthen as the University continues to develop its wireless network.

“The wireless network is experiencing increased usage,” Chalut notes. “Not only are we seeing heavy use of the wireless, we’re getting demands for more wireless services. Students want to be able to connect anytime and anywhere on campus, including outdoors. Professors, more and more, are streaming high-quality video from the Internet and demand the growth of our wireless services.”

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