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November 09, 2012

Wi-Fi and Hurricane Sandy: More is Less and Less is More

As you know I have had somewhat of a running commentary on communications connectivity issues surrounding the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York City area. I have praised the cellular operators for, what in most instances, was the ability to provide lifeline communications for those who had access to power, and questioned past industry diffidence to assuring all cell sites had backup power (including using alternative energy sources) and discussed the challenges of large and small cell siting going forward in the wake of disaster recovery challenges, which are likely to become more frequent over time.

That said, I got an interesting series of graphics from WeFi, a niche but increasingly important player in the hot public Wi-Fi space as data-offloading for mobile network operators and expansion of customer reach by cable TV operators and others takes center stage as the world moves toward wireless broadband ubiquitous coverage. 

A word about WeFi  

For the uninitiated, WeFi’s solution, WeANDSF (a combination of the company name and the acronym for Access Network Discovery and Selection Function), provides mobile operators with a flexible centrally managed goal-driven policy control over network selection decisions. In industry jargon, it is a data Offloading/Onloading and Always Best Connected solution. WeANDSF is a comprehensive solution for mobile broadband in heterogeneous networks (HetNets) environments, supporting Wi-Fi, LTE and all other prominent 2G/3G/4G cellular technologies. Visually it looks as follows:

Source: WeFi

In lay terms, the solution will let mobile operators automatically off-load data traffic that is congesting their networks to Wi-Fi hotspots — those let’s say that are owned and operated by the mobile operator, those of approved operator affiliates, secured ones such as those at a residence or office, etc. The goal is to not only alleviate traffic for the operator, but by putting the using on the best performing access point to also provide customers with better user experiences as well as a means for better managing their wireless access in a world where unlimited usage is quickly going away. 

(FYI. I will be returning to this subject rather frequently in the next few weeks based on what I picked up at the recently concluded Wi-Fi Wireless Broaband Alliance (WBA) Congress in San Francisco).

WeFi, Wi-Fi and Hurricane Sandy

Back to the subject of the headline. WeFi just so happens to keep the largest database on global Wi-Fi hotspots (143 million and counting) and has the ability to provide operators some very interesting usage as well as performance intelligence. Take a look at the graphics below concerning Wi-Fi usage in the New York area during the hurricane and the time just after it hit. 

 Source: WeFi

Source: WeFi

Cellular use compared to normal spiking the way it did was obvious. The networks were accessible for the most part and could be addressed for as long as you could keep your battery charged/re-charged. Wi-Fi was more problematic. Access points, whether in businesses or homes, need electricity and unless your building had a generator if you lost power you lost access. However, the finding that even as the number of users dropped the bandwidth use went up sends a (pardon the expression) powerful message. Users clearly were engaged with some very rich media in order to stay informed and connected with loved ones.

This is a portent of the future that everyone is predicting, and it will not be driven by disasters but by customer demands for things like more high-quality streamed video, video conferencing, interactive gaming, etc. In short, the natural one storm provide and interesting window into the virtual one.

Very interesting indeed.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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