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WiFi now accounts for about 78 per cent of the data consumed on smartphones, according to a new international report by consultancies Mobidia Technology and Informa Telecoms & Media. (Todd Korol For The Globe and Mail)
WiFi now accounts for about 78 per cent of the data consumed on smartphones, according to a new international report by consultancies Mobidia Technology and Informa Telecoms & Media. (Todd Korol For The Globe and Mail)

In battle for Western Canada, Shaw bets big on WiFi Add to ...

The WiFi service is being positioned as a “value add” for Shaw customers in an effort to keep them loyal. The biggest benefit is that Shaw Go WiFi usage does not count against a customer’s residential data cap.

Shaw’s WiFi network is poised to become a growing thorn in Telus’s side. That’s because it allows Shaw Internet customers, who buy cellphone service from carriers including Telus, to use their smartphones and other devices on its WiFi network – allowing them to forgo big data plans and save money on their cellphone bills. “It is open for every Bell, Telus and Rogers customer in Western Canada. So, come on in,” Mr. Shaw said, referring to those mobility customers who purchase their home Internet service from Shaw.

The WiFi network is used by 300,000 customers and 600,000 WiFi-enabled devices. Customers are using, on average, about one gigabyte of data a month on the WiFi network, comparable to some smartphone plans.

To date, Shaw has invested $75-million in its WiFi network through a mix of general infrastructure spending and money from the company`s accelerated capital fund. The company is now working to broaden its coverage by signing more deals – including with municipalities. So far, it has inked about 40 of those municipal deals.

“We’re not chasing the mobility business where if you’re driving down the road or walking down a residential neighbourhood. We accept that our differentiated Internet experience is complemented by a cellphone service for those use cases that we don’t provide,” said Jay Mehr, Shaw’s chief operating officer. “But wherever people are and hang out, we want them to be on our network.”

There are also early indications that Shaw Go WiFi is helping the cable company attract new customers to its high-speed Internet service, executives said, but declined to provide specifics. In some public venues operated by municipalities, Shaw is required to provide “guest access” to non-customers. Although the company may not be able to make money from those people, executives consider “guest access” a way to show non-customers what they are missing.

Shaw’s WiFi strategy is designed to retain the company’s most valuable Internet customers – those who opt for the biggest data buckets and generate the fattest bills, said Chris Emery, director of service provider business development for Cisco Canada, who has worked with Shaw.

“Those are sophisticated users; well-educated, lots of disposable income, and a household full of Apple products or Samsung products. And they are all WiFi-enabled,” Mr. Emery said. “So, if I am a Shaw subscriber, what I really like about my Shaw Internet service is that it is not just cable. I can go downtown to the library, to the park. I can go to any populated area. Pull out my WiFi device and I have an extension of my Shaw Internet service with me wherever I go … What it is, is an un-tethering of my Shaw cable-based Internet subscription, and that differentiates my Internet service from somebody else’s.”

Shaw is also looking to the future. It is in the process of testing a Shaw Go phone app that would enable customers to use their smartphones as an extension of their home phones in WiFi hot spots while they travel. It is also exploring options for video streaming to better compete with players such as Netflix.

Although the company has been criticized for its inability to monetize the WiFi service to date, international industry developments suggest there are opportunities to do so down the road. For instance, it could eventually charge for premium “guest access” for tourists attending the Calgary Stampede or perhaps provide WiFi coverage to more venues such as those hosting signature festivals or sporting events.

International carriers such as BT and Orange charge nominal amounts of money to customers seeking “premium” access or a boost in speed.

Shaw could also ostensibly sign WiFi roaming deals with international carriers that are also building out WiFi networks. Similar to cellular service, such WiFi roaming deals would allow each carrier’s customers to roam seamlessly from network to network when they travel.

In 2012, five U.S. cable companies struck a deal to give their customers access to each other’s hot spot, creating a massive network, known as CableWiFi, that comprises more than 200,000 access points.

Additionally, it could make deeper inroads with retailers. For instance, Shaw already provides WiFi access in the Chinook Centre shopping mall in Calgary. Eventually, it could work with individual retailers to provide targeted advertisements to consenting consumers’ smartphones when they are a short distance from the store, and provide more detailed analysis to malls about consumer traffic patterns, including where shoppers congregate the most, allowing them to adjust rents for prime locations.

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