There has been a two-decades long line of thought that Wi-Fi eventually could become a full substitute for a mobile network. So far, Wi-Fi has proven to be more a complement than a competitor to mobile access. But fourth generation networks have raised new issues about mobile substitution that fifth generation (5G) networks might settle.
The argument always is that a “Wi-Fi First” or eventually “Wi-Fi Only” model can fulfill most user needs, relegating the mobile networks to “filling the gaps between hotspots.”
That might be true to a great extent. But the value of the mobile network always has been about filling the communication space between fixed locations.
Think about it: the great value of mobile was the ability to communicate “on the go,” between places. That still is the case for Wi-Fi access and mobile access, to a very large extent. It is precisely the ability to stay in touch, when on the go, that is the unique value of mobile services.
In fact, that will continue to be the case for connected cars and other vehicles, where a mobile connection supplies in-vehicle Wi-Fi. Mobility at high to moderate speeds, with session handoff, remains the unique value.
That is true for high speed handoffs when communicating from moving vehicles or even out and about, on foot. Even when very dense network of public hotspots adds “public places” to the venues where Wi-Fi can be used, the primary and unique value of mobility remains the abilty to communicate when all fixed services (wired or untethered) are unavailable.
Such connectivity still will be the unique value of a mobile service, even when Wi-Fi access in stationary locations is available. That was true even when mobile phones were about voice communications.
In that sense, the fundamental value proposition for mobility is not diminished by even dense networks of public Wi-Fi hotspots.