Dimension Data and MultiChoice Group-owned Vast Networks and mobile operator Vodacom are advancing a pilot project to test offloading of the latter’s traffic onto the former’s Wi-Fi network infrastructure.
This comes after Vast successfully integrated AT&T customers visiting South Africa from the US onto its platform — serving more than 16 000 inbound travellers in the first two weeks — and is now working to secure similar deals with three European mobile carriers, CEO Grant Marais said in an interview with TechCentral on Thursday.
The offloading pilot, involving employees from both Vodacom and Vast, has been deployed at about a dozen commercial Vast Wi-Fi sites, with positive results. However, any decision to launch the service commercially and more broadly is Vodacom’s to make, Marais emphasised. Vast demonstrated the technology in action to TechCentral using both AT&T and Vodacom Sims and it worked well.
Wi-Fi offloading, where traffic that would normally be handled by mobile networks is handed off to Wi-Fi infrastructure (where available), is becoming increasingly important as mobile data growth continues to expand rapidly and as spectrum constraints — particularly in South Africa, where no new spectrum has been licensed to mobile operators for 14 years — threaten network congestion.
Speaking in the same interview, Khetan Gajjar, Vast Networks’ chief technology officer, explained that there are two ways that offload can be done with the mobile operators. In the case of AT&T customers, they are simply given Internet access provided by Vast when in South Africa and in a Vast Wi-Fi coverage zone. In the case of Vodacom, traffic is passed back into Vodacom’s core network, and the operator then determines how to provision services to its customers. Users will then consume data from whatever mobile data bundle it is they happened to have purchased and Vodacom has full control over the experience it offers them.
Taking the system live, once Vodacom is ready for commercial deployment, is as simple as sending a once-off profile over the air to users’ devices. Then, when they “roam” into a Vast Wi-Fi zone, they’ll connect automatically. Vast never holds the end user’s credentials.
Vast, which is 51.8% held by Dimension Data, with the remaining shares held by MultiChoice, has 2 500 Wi-Fi locations countrywide, including at airports, hospitals, shopping malls, fast-food outlets and coffee shops. Of those, about 450 are what Vast calls “super-large locations” such as airports that consist of many access points. – © 2019 NewsCentral Media