It’s impossible to count the many ways in which the digital revolution has impacted modern life. Technologies like mobile and the cloud are being embraced everywhere from office space meeting rooms to the average consumer’s home – and t hey’re drastically changing how we go about our lives. It could easily be argued that Wi-Fi is the main driving force behind this shift towards a more convenient life; it powers the apps we use, the web-based storage solutions we depend on and, to a growing extent, our primary methods of communication.

In order for the Wi-Fi ecosystem to continue supporting the rise of other technologies, though, innovation must be the main ambition. The WBA Wi-Fi Industry Awards act as an annual celebration of the companies that achieve this, and in 2013 the list of winners comprised some of the industry’s biggest names.

Best Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) Initiative: KT
Founded in 1981, KT Corporation – or simply ‘KT’ – has grown quickly to become South Korea’s dominant telecommunications firm and the sixth largest in the world. The company, which used to be known as Korea Telecom, has played a significant role in Korea’s journey to becoming the world’s biggest IT superpower.

With an initial focus on fixed-line communications, KT introduced universal telephone services to every single one of its country’s citizens. The spotlight was soon placed on wirel ess technologies and, in 2002, the firm began building its broadband network. Within three years, its number of asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) customers had reached a record-breaking six million.

Today, KT’s efforts are placed firmly on pioneering the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH). The company is playing a huge part in the technology’s development by pushing it to consumers and businesses in the world’s most advanced broadband market, South Kore a.

One of the judges, Caroline Gabriel of Maravedis-Rethink Technology Research, said of the telecoms giant: “KT shone through as a true pioneer of the Next Generation Hotspot through a large scale NGH deployment of 39,000 access points, interwor king testing with two handset manufacturers and engaging in roaming agreements with five global operators.”

Best Wi-Fi Service Innovation: SK Telecom
SK Telecom is South Korea’s largest dedicated mobile service provider, and has held a majority share of the national market since the late 2000s. The company has grown rapidly since it was founded in 1984, and is credited with being the first in the world to commercialise High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) – a key 3G communications protocol.

In March 2013, SK Telecom continued in its innovative ways by introducing ‘Giga Wi-Fi’ to the world. Capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 1.3 gigabits per second (gbps), the Giga network is a major breakthrough in Wi-Fi technology. By applying the wider 802.11ac standard, it provides users with download speeds of up to 300 megabits per second (mbps) – around four times faster than anything that came before it.

Daryl Schoolar, lead judge and principal analyst from research firm Ovum, said of the company’s award: “The winning service combines an early 802.11ac deployment with Next Generation Hotspot elements and service roaming.

“Successfully pulling these different features together demonstrates a real step forward for Wi-Fi services. This is a service that market and technology-watchers will be following.”

Best Wi-Fi Technology Innovation: Ericsson
Ericsson has perhaps the richest and longest history of all the winners in 2013. Founded in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson, the Swedish firm has a hugely international presence, with customers and staff in more than 180 countries across the glob e. With interests in all areas of communication technology, the equipment and service provider has a colossal portfolio comprising some of the world’s most important wireless patents.

In May 2013, Ericsson unveiled its real-time traffic steering technology. Designed to further strengthen the bridge between the two most prominent connection methods, Ericsson’s concept is already playing a crucial part in the wireless ecosystem by allowing service providers to overcome one of the biggest challenges they face at present; ensuring Wi-Fi and cellular data connections are interoperable.

Ms Gabriel from Maravedis-Rethink Technology Research said: “The platforms of the winner of this category will provide them with a big step forward in ease of deployment and scalability, with strong potential for the business case.”

Most Innovative Hotspot Venue: China Mobile
Based on subscriber numbers, China Mobile is the largest mobile service provider in the world, with 760 million customers. The firm, which is controlled by the Chinese government, has dominated China’s mobile industry since it was established in 1997. While its home ground is by far its biggest market, China Mobile also has a presence in Pakistan, where it acquired Paktel in 2007.

China Mobile has a particularly tight grip on its country’s rural market, and its drive to provide for people in more remote areas has helped it to provide 97 per cent of the population with reliable mobile reception. In 2013, it was revealed that the company had established more than 170,000 access points in rural areas, helping to support China’s economy and reputation as a global superpower.

Another of the panel’s lead judges, Ken Rehbehn from Yankee Group, said: “By solving a difficult challenge, the winner delivers an important and valuable contribution to communities in impoverished areas.

“Cost effective delivery of broadband services to rural communities expands educational opportunity while helping drive economic growth.”

Best Next Generation Wi-Fi Device/Application: Fon
According to its own claims, Fon is behind the world’s biggest Wi-Fi network, with more than 12 million access points spread across the world. Founded by Martín Varsavsky in 2005, its headquarters are based in the Spanish capital, Madrid, although the company has an international presence, with regional offices in the UK, US, South America and Asia.

The size of Fon’s network can be put down to the social approach it takes to Wi-Fi. Customers have the chance to share part of their own bandwidth to provide others with a Wi-Fi signal. The users who opt in are given internet access via other membe rs’ connections, while those who choose not to are required to purchase credit or passes from the company.

Fon’s drive for an efficient, social wireless experience is supported by a device it released in 2013: the Fonera router. The 802.11n-compatible kit has been built specifically to work with Fon’s unique strategy, and even allows users to log in using Fa cebook. This fits in perfectly with Varsavsky’s initial vision of creating a convenient network that users can share their access to without compromising safety.

According to Current Analysis’s Peter Jarich, the Fonera’s development was no mean feat. “Extending the functionality of its routers with an ‘open’ aspect is a creative combination of hardware engineering, software engineering and social business models ,” he noted.

Best New Venture: BandwidthX
BandwidthX is the brainchild of Dr Pertti Visuri, who is also the company’s CEO. The Finnish physics and engineering expert started the company in 2011, after founding and leading one of the wireless world’s most innovative forces, Airgain. Over a period of eight years, he and his team developed Airgain to become the world’s leading provider of embedded Wi-Fi gateway antenna systems.

Now, heading up BandwidthX, Mr Visuri’s vision has evolved, and his expert team is working to make the industry simpler for those involved. This is achieved with the invention of Bandwidth Market, an innovative new platform designed to streamline the pr ocess of buying and selling bandwidth capacity.

The service brings the buyers and sellers of Wi-Fi bandwidth capacity together, and allows both to change their policies and pricing in real-time. Once the both sides’ values are aligned, the agreement moves onto the next stage, ensuring deals that work for all parties can be agreed quickly and easily. According to Strategy Analytics’ Guang Yang, the platform is helping to “promote Wi-Fi development”.

Looking ahead…
Every year, the WBA Wi-Fi Industry Awards highlight the achievements and innovations that are crucial to the development of Wi-Fi as a technology, and 2014 is no exception. This year’s ceremony will be held on October 9 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, with the final shortlist to be revealed a few weeks before, on September 17.