With South African cellular networks in the major urban centres straining under rapidly increasing data usage, the time is ripe for the country’s mobile operators to adopt aggressive WiFi offloading as a strategy. 
That’s the word from Quentin Joubert, product manager at Cellfind, a subsidiary of Blue Label Telecoms. He says that WiFi offloading could help operators to tap new revenue streams from WiFi while providing cheaper, more convenient data access with a better  experience  for users in congested urban areas.
Says Joubert: “Network congestion in urban centres has emerged as major challenge for South African mobile operators as more users with smartphones, data cards and tablets join their networks. Data usage is climbing, but the capacity to service this demand is limited. And with operators refarming their existing capacity to provide long term evolution (LTE) services, the problem is growing by the day.
“We are already seeing some operators use premium pricing for LTE services as a way to try and control the demand for high-speed data is putting on their networks.”
Joubert says that WiFi offloading allows for data traffic on a smartphone to be shifted onto a public WiFi network or a WiFi networking owned by the cellular operator when one is available to take pressure off the congested cellular network. Most mid-range to high-end smartphones today support WiFi as well as cellular technologies such as 3G and LTE, he notes.
Today’s technology allows the hand-off between cellular and WiFi networks to be done relatively seamlessly to the end-user with seamless authentication across multiple networks, so that a subscriber doesn’t necessarily need to fiddle around with configuration settings and multiple passwords, says Joubert. In the back-office, the billing can be easily built into operator’s existing systems.
Joubert says that from the operator’s perspective, the advantage is two-fold: it can alleviate congestion on its cellular network  and benefit from WiFi revenues when subscribers are using hotspots rather than the cellular networks.
“Savvy users know that WiFi services are often cheaper and faster than the cellular network and switch as soon as a public hotspot is available,” he adds. “Operators can capture those revenues rather than letting them leak to a competitor.”
In addition to partnering with existing WiFi hotspot operators to offer WiFi offloading services, operators could also build out their own WiFi networks in busy urban areas like airports and shopping centres, notes Joubert.