The key to encouraging 3G offloading, however, is enabling seamless roaming between WiFi and 3G. "A single sign-on is the thing to master," Lo said. "People want WiFi if it's easy to use. If they have to re-authenticate every time, it's a big pain."
U.S. operators besides AT&T have yet to enable devices to seek out a WiFi connection before a 3G connection. PCCW in Hong Kong, a Ruckus Wireless customer, deployed that capability two years ago when it began rolling out hotspots and other operators in Asia and Europe are aggressively adding that capability.
Should operators necessarily follow AT&T's lead and own hotspots? Lo said money can be made as a managed hotspot service provider in addition to the benefits of reducing network capex and aiding customer retention.
Already, companies like WeFi are coming up with app stores for use on WiFi only, while other companies like Bango are coming up with ways for operators to monetize apps via WiFi.