This article from GigaOM talks about the potential of carrier owned/managed Wi-Fi as a way to ease congestion and save on network costs. They reference a recent Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) survey that indicated that 22% of new data capacity will come from carrier provided Wi-Fi.
"Anyone who owns a smartphone or cellular-connected tablet likely already is shunting a good deal of their mobile traffic onto home, work and other publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks. But what the WBA is talking about are carrier-owned and carrier-managed hotspot networks stuck in places where consumers would normally resort to their 3G and 4G connections. (GigaOM)
This totally makes sense, given the congestion issues carriers face, especially when dealing with the crush of mobile video being viewed on smartphones and tablets. However, carrier provided Wi-Fi is not an immediate panacea. We've seen many carriers invest in Wi-Fi offload, either through their own investments or through partnerships. One of the challenges with Wi-Fi is dealing with the handoff from carrier mobile data networks and Wi-Fi, and then from Wi-Fi hotspot to hotspot, something that is not elegantly handled today by Wi-Fi. This would pose additional problems to users listening to music and watching videos as streams are interrupted from multiple handoffs, not the best user experience. The GigaOM article mentions the promise of Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot initiatives which would address many of these issues, but we are still a ways away from that being a readily available alternative.
Something we have seen from our customer base is that technology investments to expand capacity (e.g. LTE/4G) struggle to keep up with demand, so it is hard to speculate how much benefit carrier provided Wi-Fi will provide given that we are still a few years away from it being really measurable and user friendly. Likely, it will be a useful tool for carriers as part of a broad toolkit, just like Web and Video optimization solutions are useful tools available today for helping with congestion management and improving the user experience.
Click here for more information on optimization solutions available from Vantrix.