Curating the Wi-Fi experience

Connecting to Wi-Fi networks can be a frustrating business, but California-based Devicescape’s curated virtual network is designed to benefit operators, Wi-Fi providers and consumers, as CEO David Fraser tells James Atkinson

Curating the Wi-Fi experience

David Fraser (pictured), CEO, Devicescape, tells Wireless: ‘We are the leader in virtualised carrier Wi-Fi with 20 million locations, and it will hit 100 million by the end of 2017, which makes it by far the largest Wi-Fi network around. What we are promoting is the world’s largest Wi-Fi service platform.’

Devicescape’s solution is to pool existing public and amenity Wi-Fi networks into a Curated Virtual Network (CVN). ‘It is a virtual software network, but it feels the same as a real network. It provides an automatic log on and we know where people are, what they are using and so on, so it is comparable to what you would see on the traditional mobile network,’ explains Fraser.

Layered on top of this is a range of carrier-class services for mobile operators to enable easy subscriber access, promote user engagement and to deliver insight into consumer behaviours. The network is built up using machine-learning technology. Smartphones, tablets and laptops are loaded with Devicescape’s Curator Client software (either downloaded by the subscriber or pre-loaded onto the device by the operator). As users move about, the Curator Client software constantly gathers information about Wi-Fi access points (AP).

The device’s machine-learning technology attempts to validate the AP by checking its quality, access rules, keys, bypass methods and authentication procedures. If the AP passes the quality threshold it is added to the CVN and then monitored thereafter. Only around 10% of APs discovered by devices meet the quality standards.

More than that, the Curator Client is an adaptive network selection (ANS) application. It automatically connects the user’s device to the best network available at any time and place, based on parameters set either by the operator, or if preferred, to some extent by the users themselves. What is different is that APs are automatically tested for performance quality from the perspective of the individual user’s device.

If the quality of the experience drops below the operator’s quality threshold, the device is automatically switched to another affiliate Wi-Fi connection or on to the cellular network (the software ensures this is done before the quality drops too far and causes a break in the session).

‘Our platform will not only automatically connect the user, who does not need to interact with the phone at all, but will also make sure the experience is done well. Our Curator Client software and cloud-based technology continually monitors the networks, so we can move the user back and forward between cellular and Wi-Fi networks to make sure the user experience is the best that can be got,’ says Fraser.

Operators are free to determine the policies they want. ‘There are different strategies they can adopt,’ notes Fraser. ‘They can offer Wi-Fi all the time; only offer when the cellular network is congested; or only enable it for roaming. The point is, we need to find a harmonious way to use Wi-Fi. It is by no means apparent what the ROI (Return On Investment) is for carriers.

‘We need to remove the complexity of access and authentication for users by defragmenting the whole thing to leverage the entire wireless ecosystem and integrate all those different uses, such as roaming. We need to make the ROI much easier to achieve by having, frankly, an incredibly low price point,’ argues Fraser.

Explaining the rationale for the mobile operator to offer the Devicescape service to its subscribers, Fraser says: ‘It can be just data offload to relieve congestion on the cellular network, or it may be to give their subscribers the best experience: that keeps them happy and reduces churn.

‘Or take those with unlimited data plans – operators will want subscribers to use as much Wi-Fi as possible. Or, they might offer Wi-Fi as a way of providing a great video experience. Customers will get used to it and then that will help drive adoption of higher video tariffs and improve carrier ARPU,’ points out Fraser.

Two further aspects make Devicescape an attractive proposition: engagement services and customer insight services. Devicescape’s Popwifi Experience Manager enables venue owners (such sports/cultural venues or retailers) to provide seamless connectivity to their Wi-Fi networks for customers, and once connected, provides them with a wide range of standard proximity marketing messages, included customised messaging.

Fraser adds: ‘We can give operators Wi-Fi CDRs (Call Data Records) that they’ve always had on their cellular networks, so they can bill or at least see what their subscribers are up to when using Wi-Fi – something they’ve not been able to do before.

‘Smartphones are mass market, but 65% plus of data reaches our devices via Wi-Fi,’ Fraser concludes. ‘Devicescape harnesses Wi-Fi that is already out there. We want to harness that and bring it to the mobile operator. Users have a trusted relationship with the operator, so why should the latter not take charge of that Wi-Fi relationship too?’

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