When I first heard about Verizon, the landline telco, starting to go into the business of offering WiFi, I thought, "here we go again" as we've already seen them start, then stop deploying hotspots in their service markets.
Back in 2003/2004 Verizon did to WiFi the same as AOL did to VoIP. They bent over and took it from a sister company. In the case of AOL it was Time Warner Cable telling the execs at AOL to basically "cease and desist" from going full bore into the phone business, the same way Verizon Wireless must have told one half of their partner, Verizon, to stand down and not deploy hot spots to give their DSL customers WiFi access.
Now I've read in the WSJ and elsewhere that some think this is simply a "marketing stunt" or a retort to Cablevision's earlier announcement to offer 3 Megs of WiFi coverage to their customers.
I don't think so.
That would be the surface move. But the real battle is about the Balkanization of Wireless. Here you have CDMA players Verizon and Sprint, each advancing in the 4G front (LTE and WiMax) and each saying we see new forms of technology that will leapfrog the GSM technology over time. Verizon Wireless, which has been about as Anti-WiFi as you can get, has more recently softened that stance and we're starting to see more and more Wireless and Wi-Fi technology come from them. We're also seeing more or better thinking about out of market strategy from Verizon than we are from AT&T (Note the letters I've seen sent by AT&T to out of market users of Call Vantage will support the fact that the company is not really addressing the out of market customer as they suggest uVerse which today is only available in SOME AT&T markets) with the Verizon HUB device that is sold via Verizon Wireless stores and is a VoIP play at its core ala CallVantage.
What we're seeing is the start of Balkanization of the Wireless space, where AT&T says "don't roam on my network" with your FIOS customers, not because the technology is different, but because of what I can best call a "land grab" mentality. The reason is simple. AT&T has with their pick up of Wayport a few months back a very strong hold on many of the nations most popular hotspots, namely McDonalds and Starbucks. With this most recent foray by the number two wireless provider's parent, one has to wonder why T-Mobile abandoned their HotSpot properties in the USA and most recently the UK (I think it was to use the network to support their 3G capacity needs, but they will not confirm that) and Sprint which had some airport WiFi agreements sold them off to a smart acquirer, Boingo (an agency client) back in 2007.
Both Sprint and Verizon fell under the Qualcomm spell of CDMA is better than WiFi ironically largely propelled by my good friend and sometimes wine drinking pal, Jeff Belk, big Q's former VP, Marketing and later Senior VP of Strategy. Now, some years later, the carriers (AT&T and Verizon, plus BT and others internationally) are all taking to the fact that WiFi is great on a few counts.
1. WiFi fills in gaps when cellular service isn't available--such as in buildings, especially hotels.
2. WiFi gives user a real broadband experience, not a hit or miss experience like we're seeing with 3G on AT&T on both coasts (I was in NYC and rarely received a 3G signal on my iPhone, but did on my Verizon World Smartphone/aka The Blackberry.
3. WiFi drives wholesale sales of bandwidth
But AT&T and Verizon have not really played nice in the USA, so I predict they won't play nice when it comes to this issue either. Welcome to the Balkins of Wireless with their enemy combatants in the battle being Sprint and T-Mobile.
What we need is a unified USA wireless strategy, not just a Rural Broadband Stimulus Package, otherwise we end up just like the Balkans. Divided and conquered.
What we also need is true "openness" when it comes to WiFi. That means roaming, not restrictions. Already I find it hard to roam on some T-Mobile Hotspots with an AT&T account, but I can roam on AT&T with Boingo. In Europe the roaming is even more scattershot, with really only Boingo and to some extent iPass really making the effort to establish the ease of roaming for the user. As for the carriers, they all like you on their network, but other than in France where the in many hotspots you can log on using a variety of service provider supplied credentials (log on and password) you really need an account with each.
Like I said...Welcome to the Balkans.
I guess that makes Boingo, Switzerland.