Cisco, Facebook to offer free Wi-Fi Internet access at public places

Networking major Cisco Systems and social media network Facebook are planning their free Wi-Fi Internet alliance.

The two companies are working to offer free Wi-Fi Internet access to consumers at public places such as hotels or retail stores using their Facebook log-in.

A visitor could check in at a hotel without having to line-up at a front desk by signing in via the Facebook application on a smartphone, Reuters reported.

Cisco Wi-Fi routerThe company also demonstrated how it might work at a hospital as Cisco CEO John Chambers gave a speech at the Interop technology conference in New York.

Chambers said retailers could deliver tailored promotions or information to consumers who check in through Facebook when they arrive at a store.

Cisco said some customers of its Connected Mobile Experience Wi-Fi technology are currently testing the system.

While Cisco is looking to sell network equipment, Facebook appears to be following arch-rival Google in collecting data on the shopping and Web browsing habits of customers so it can offer targeted ads.

Earlier this year, Google announced plans to bring free wireless Internet access to 7,000 Starbucks Corp cafes across the United States.

As part of their deal, Google will help develop a version of the Starbucks Digital Network available to customers, putting it in a strong position to offer targeted advertising and promote the music and other media it sells.

Carrier Wi-Fi takes off

Recently, ABI Research said there will be 9.7 million carrier Wi-Fi access point shipments in 2018 with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for 70 percent of that number. Carrier Wi-Fi started to gain momentum in 2013 driven by increasing data demands and new Wi-Fi advancements.

Cable operators are also adopting the technology as an entrance into the wireless market.

Cable WiFi, an alliance formed of five of the biggest cable operators in the U.S. including Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, and Time Warner Cable, are following a good Wi-Fi model. Customers of any of the alliance members can roam in the biggest Wi-Fi network in the U.S. with more than 150,000 hotspots.

Deploying Carrier Wi-Fi can be more challenging for mobile operators due to the complexities of integrating Wi-Fi with wireless networks.

In 2011, laptops represented just 48 percent of the connections to hotspots, whereas smartphones accounted for 36 percent and tablets 10 percent.

Telecoms in markets like the U.S., Japan and South Korea such as AT&T, KDDI, and SK Telecom are driving forward with plans, having already built extensive Wi-Fi networks in their markets and also feeling the most pressure from the data tsunami.

Wi-Fi chip innovation

Wi-Fi hotspot numbers are set to grow to 5.8 million globally by 2015, according to a report by market research company Informa Telecoms and Media.

Chip major Qualcomm Atheros recently announced a new low power Wi-Fi product family comprising of two chips: the QCA4002 and the QCA4004.

ABI Research says Qualcomm Atheros joins a number of other vendors looking to gain from the potential for low power wireless and its offerings join a slew of existing vendors and offerings.

Osmo (now part of Atmel) has focused on the remote control market and Nanoradio (now part of Samsung) has traditionally focused on the smartphone market.

When it comes to direct competition, both Gainspan and RedPine have been focused on the same home appliance, Internet of Things functionality where Qualcomm is targeting its platforms.

Redpine Signals differentiated itself by offering not only low power Wi-Fi but also combo chips with Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Bluetooth. Meanwhile, for its part, Broadcom announced new products earlier this year, with its WICED SoCs taking a similar approach to the new Qualcomm Atheros solutions.

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