For Carriers, Wi-Fi Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

Carl Weinschenk

Perhaps telecommunications companies should being referring to Carrier Wi-Fi as “Carrier Wi-Fi, M.D.” For them, it is just what the doctor ordered.

The idea is pretty simple: Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed and thus essentially free spectrum. To the extent carriers can use it in place of expensive cellular spectrum, they save money and, in the bargain, ameliorate the intense strain on their networks. This stress is real – Verizon reported problems last week – and expected to grow.

Edgar Figueroa, the president and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, used Light Reading as a platform to extoll the virtues of the technology his organization oversees. Most of the column discusses Passpoint, which is a technique that enables users to roam between networks seamlessly. Formerly, such travelers would have to re-authenticate when they moved. He said that his organization has certified more than 75 products for Passpoint.

Such upgrades to Wi-Fi are necessary if it really is going to succeed as a carrier tool. A nice overview of the landscape was provided at TelecomTV by Marc Jadoul, Alcatel-Lucent’s strategic marketing director. He points to increasing demand; users’ expectations of uninterrupted mobile experiences; and the need to integrate wireline, Wi-Fi and cellular approaches into a cohesive platform.

The effort, Jadoul points out, goes beyond Passpoint:

New (evolving) standards, such as Hotspot 2.0 (defined by the Wi-Fi Alliance), Next Generation Hotspot (defined by the Wireless Broadband Alliance) and the Automatic Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF, defined by 3GPP) are setting the stage for ‘convergence’ of mobile broadband and Wi-Fi services. In the near future they will enable simple, seamless and secure interworking of Wi-Fi and cellular data services and between Wi-Fi hotspots.

Hotspot 2.0 is the technical specification underlying Passpoint, so the two essentially are synonymous.

It is a technology that the carriers are showing no sign of reticence to use, both in the United States and elsewhere. Wireless Broadband Alliance says that tier one mobile operators believe that 22 percent of their capacity will be provided by Wi-Fi this year and next. The study, which was reported upon at Mobile World Live, says that number will be 20 percent in 2018, but will be supplemented by 21 percent of capacity from small cells integrated into the Wi-Fi platform. The study notes especially fast growth of Wi-Fi offload in densely populated areas.

Wi-Fi, which was a secondary approach to wireless data distribution just a few short years ago, has emerged as a vital tool for carriers. Its importance is bound to grow as the pressure on cellular spectrum mounts.

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