Wireless as a Service (WaaS)

Phase
Trough of Disillusionment
UMN Assessment
No Investment Needed
Time Frame
5 to 10 Years
Last Updated on Sep 12, 2014

Gartner's definition (and coverage) of Wireless As a Service (WaaS) is very broad:

Wireless as a service (WaaS) in the education context is when an institution buys wireless services from an external service provider to complement or replace its own network access.

Wireless service includes two distinct kinds of delivery: Wi-Fi (802.11x that is commonly used for home and classroom wireless access), and cell-data networks (which are a patchwork set of data services of various speeds, capabilities, and distribution, predominantly used by smartphones on wireless telecom networks).  Students and others campus users get the former as part of their university services, but buy the latter as individual consumer packages typically from the four big wireless phone companies.

Wireless as a Service may include one or more of the following:

  • Subsidize data access mobile plans
  • Encourage mobile vendors to extend their campus data coverage
  • Pay outside vendors for extending or replacing the institutions wireless network

Subsidizing mobile plans
Many institutions, including the U of M, have subsidy agreements with mobile telecoms. The telecom offers some discount off their normal mobile phone plans, mostly in return for marketing access to the relatively stable university community population. This primarily facilitates mobile learning on and off campus by making smartphone ownership more affordable.

Encouraging mobile vendors to extend their campus data coverage
Different wireless vendors have different coverages on campus. When the institution's Wi-Fi coverage is insufficient, user smartphones drop back to their outside vendor data coverage, thus relieving pressure on the campus network. More comprehensive coverage may allow the institution to delay building out their own Wi-Fi, saving money. Instituting a policy that extends wireless vendors access to university property, rooftops, or wireless equipment mount points may provide vendors with incentive to provide their customers in dense campus environments with better coverage.

Outsourcing the campus network
While it is not yet common (as it is with e-mail services, or food services), universities may choose to have an external network provider take over the entire university Wi-Fi network, given an acceptable contract and cost structure. This would eliminate the need for wireless network expertise on campus and the costs of maintaining and upgrading wireless infrastructure.