Our VP Americas, Anne Lakstigala, recently attended the World Broadband Alliance Wi-Fi Global Congress in San Francisco. Anne was on a panel, hosted by Adlane Fellah, and discussing ‘Innovative Services over WiFi’. Here we take a look at the 5 big talking points and share our views on those hot topics.

1) Monetizing WiFi

Advertising is the obvious choice to monetize WiFi, but with the dangers of ‘overkill advertising’ being exalted in a recent study about iBeacons, brands are wary of customers suffering from advertising fatigue.

We believe that contextualised, relevant and unobtrusive advertising will be part of the overall mix, but advertising over WiFi is still in its infancy and it’s currently still difficult to make the dollars add up. There are of course other ways to monetize WiFi. It’s likely that this will mature into a series of layered benefits including analytics, customer service, revenue generation, tiered bandwidth, data offload and advertising. New opportunities continue to emerge as the technology evolves, providing genuine value to both providers and consumers.This is an area of fast growth, as businesses, communities and individuals begin to understand the potential benefits.

2) WiFi App developments

Whilst there is an array of WiFi apps about to launch or already available to take advantage of some of these opportunities, no one killer app has yet materialised to maximise revenue and enrich experiences.

Location pinpointing and wayfinding apps improve customer experience, but to utilise this technology fully, a blend of different applications may be needed. The ecosystem is only just beginning – at Purple WiFi we are working on providing the best, most robust and flexible platform for WiFi. Then we will partner with other companies to do what they do best and provide other services to layer onto WiFi; like digital signage, music streaming, loyalty card hook ups, mPOS.

Device developments will also play a part. Hotspot 2.0 is coming fast. We believe that in 12 months, it will be everywhere and this will result in a big leap forward for the usability of WiFi.

A big emerging service is Voice Over WiFi. iOS 8 has enabled this feature, and we’re seeing lots of companies springing up offering this first and cellular calls second.

3) What challenges and opportunities will arise for SP’s and venues in 2015?

With SP’s and venues both having access to data, some challenges will arise around its management, storage and ownership, as well as presenting some privacy concerns.

Analytics are evolving rapidly and the level of intelligence that is being driven is catching up to that of the online world. We expect this to continue over the coming months and years.

A big challenge, particularly for SP’s, is productizing and articulating this value to their existing and new customers. As we’ve seen in the retail market, SP’s will need to make sure that all stakeholders get some value and we’ve already seen them doing more and more on behalf of enterprise customers.

Some larger venues are looking to implement WiFi themselves, whilst most small to medium businesses still seek out Service Providers to manage this on their behalf.

As everyone wants access to the end user’s details, data privacy concerns must be addressed, and this has been highlighted recently by a number of privacy issues involving leaked customer data from big retailers.

It’s clear that governments are willing to get involved where they see businesses blocking access to cellular, GPS or wireless networks. The FCC recently fined Marriott for blocking guest personal hotspots, forcing them to use their expensive WiFi service.

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement.

4) Smart cities

City-wide connectivity continues to grow, both in the number of locations and in the range of ways the technology is being used. Smart cities have moved far beyond simple WiFi access at bus stops. WiFi is being used as a productivity tool for municipalities and communities alike.

Citizens and visitors are using it for improved navigation – finding local businesses, viewing videos and accessing virtual tour guides. While governments are improving and cutting the cost of public services like policing, lighting and transportation.

5) What is the role of iBeacons and WiFi?

There’s a huge trend towards iBeacons; after all, they are easy to acquire and install, don’t require any heavy involvement from IT, and the penetration of iPhones has accelerated this.

From a location perspective, it’s another sensor and we see a place for both WiFi and iBeacons. If properly managed, the two technologies can be complementary – WiFi doesn’t require apps and iBeacons are hyper localized. At Purple WiFi we are working with partners in the Beacon space to look at ways that we might be able to use the advantages which both technologies bring.

What is the real innovation happening in WiFi?

Two years ago we would have said that an innovation of WiFi was social login. Now that’s just a standard part of our feature set, we believe moving forward all solutions will incorporate social login of some sort, using whatever social media platform is the current one.

The market continues to evolve, but the real innovation will be how brands and venues really use WiFi to provide benefits to people, and how that changes life for the better. Right now, it’s in the early stages. We’ve just started. Brands now have an exciting new toolset in WiFi and they are only just beginning to draw insights and make changes as a result. Everyone is learning and testing to see what sticks.

So watch this space…