In 2016, Thomson Reuters released its list of 3,083 Highly Cited Researchers from around the world., with two from CUHK. Prof. HUANG Jianwei, who specializes in computer science, is one of them. In the same year, he was elected Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) at the age of 37, one of the youngest amongst the new fellows.
The Network Communications and Economics Lab (NCEL), led by Prof. HUANG Jianwei from the Department of Information Engineering, has recently proposed two innovative business models to explore the economic benefits of a Wi-Fi sharing community. Based on the goal of mutual advantage, these models not only benefit consumers but also create new business opportunities for network operators.
Seamless network coverage by shared Wi-Fi hotspots
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, there is an unprecedented growth in demand for bandwidth-hungry applications, such as video calls, video streaming, and sharing of large files. A stable and high-quality Wi-Fi broadband network is key to the support of all these operations. By 2019, according to a forecast by the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI), Wi-Fi networks will carry 54% of the traffic coming from smartphones while the traffic coming from tablets will reach 70%. Compared to traditional 3G and 4G cellular networks, Wi-Fi network equipment is low-cost, easy to install and manage, and can offer high transmission rates. Therefore, it is vital in supporting applications that involve large amounts of data transmission. However, a single Wi-Fi hotspot can only cover up to a hundred square meters indoors. In order to create a seamless urban Wi-Fi network coverage, large numbers of hotspots must be installed, which requires an enormous amount of capital investment. This has become a major bottleneck in the development of Wi-Fi networks.
A crowd-sourced, shared Wi-Fi community network is a perfect solution to this problem. According to current user habits, when at home the user is often unable to fully utilise his/her personal network access bandwidth. However, when on the street, it is difficult to find high-quality Wi-Fi hotspots, thus affecting the user's Internet experience. The research team of Prof. Jianwei Huang suggests attracting individual users to share their Wi-Fi hotspots with each other through proper incentive mechanisms. In this way, tens of thousands of privately owned hotspots will form a large-scale Wi-Fi network that transcends national borders, while requiring little additional investments from business operators. The idle network resources will be fully utilised, creating new economic values and maximising the potential of the network infrastructure.
Differential Wi-Fi pricings with sponsorship advertising
Apart from the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi community network, Professor Huang has also proposed a Wi-Fi advertising model, which benefits Wi-Fi operators, advertisers, and consumers alike. Today's consumers have an increasing demand for free Wi-Fi services, which makes it difficult for operators to directly charge consumers for Wi-Fi usages to cover their network investments and operational costs. This has heavily impeded the development of public Wi-Fi networks.
Professor HUANG said, 'Sponsored Wi-Fi access is born out of this situation. I Sponsors allow people free Wi-Fi access for a certain duration in return for advertising. Several Wi-Fi advertising platforms have been set up to enable collaboration between operators and advertisers. The most well-known examples are Boingo and SOCIFI. With the Wi-Fi advertising business model, advertisers can efficiently reach their target consumer groups based on information collected by Wi-Fi networks, such as consumer locations and mobility patterns. Operators can also obtain extra revenue through selling advertising spaces to advertisers, which encourages operators to set up more Wi-Fi hotspots, thus improving the overall Wi-Fi coverage and benefitting the whole city.'
Based on the idea of Wi-Fi advertising, different venues can inspire different approaches to monetise their Wi-Fi networks. For example, shopping malls that enjoy high visitor rates can directly charge people based on their Wi-Fi usage. However, the more specialised venues (such as electronics stores) with lower visitor rates can provide free Wi-Fi access in exchange for payment from advertisers who deliver advertisements to their target visitors.
In order to help operators design optimal Wi-Fi monetisation strategies, the CUHK team has conducted analysis based on Game Theory, and has computed optimal pricing schemes for operators. With the help of the optimised pricing schemes, operators can achieve the highest revenue by adjusting their prices according to the proportion of visitors who choose to pay and those who opt for sponsored access. The study of the Wi-Fi advertising model will help operators generate considerable revenue from their Wi-Fi networks, thereby encouraging them to widen their Wi-Fi coverage and benefitting the public.
About the Network Communications and Economics Lab (NCEL)
CUHK's Network Communications and Economics Lab (NCEL) was established by Prof. Jianwei Huang in 2007, and is a leading international research group focusing on interdisciplinary research in communications, networking, and economics. Prof. Jianwei Huang has co-authored six books and over 200 papers published in top international journals and conferences, with a total of more than 7,200 citations. Five of his publications were named 'Highly Cited Papers' by Web of Science, which put them amongst the top 1% of the most frequently cited papers published over the past 10 years. Excellent research results earned NCEL eight Best Papers Awards from top international conferences and journals, including the 2011 IEEE Marconi Prize Paper Award in Wireless Communications. NCEL works in close collaboration with over 40 world-class academic research institutes and communications network operators. The NCEL Wi-Fi research team (Dr. Qian MA, Dr. Haoran YU, Dr. Lin GAO, and Dr. Man Hon CHEUNG) participates in the lab's joint projects with teams from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and Mainland China.