Getting Smart with Cells

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Eight Tips for Deploying Wi-Fi at Work

Consider these tips before deploying Wi-Fi in your business.

There are lots of very smart people working in the telecommunications and IT spheres. Thus, when a fundamental presents itself - one that threatens the health of the interrelated industry segments - good ideas tend to emerge. Though the wars against spam and hackers are not won, concerted effort by a galvanized industry has led to great progress. Likewise, the depletion of IP addresses is a scary thought and the industry has responded with the IPv6 solution.


Another of these big challenges is bandwidth scarcity. The avalanche of mobile devices - and, ironically, the solutions to the other problems - means that bandwidth use will go in one direction: up.

One promising way to deal with the issue involves base stations. The large variety that dot the landscape are only one type. There is an ecosystem of smaller varieties, such as picocells, microcells and femtocells. Now that the challenge is apparent, those various flavors of the smaller cells are being brought under one roof of the appropriately named Small Cell Forum.

One of the most important technical trends - which is discussed in this piece at Network World by Ajay Kumar Gupta, a team leader at Wesley Clover Communications Solutions - is the marriage of cellular and Wi-Fi. This is a major weapon in the battle to stretch bandwidth for a couple of reasons: Wi-Fi is unlicensed and runs outside the cellular spectrum that is the focus of so much tension between the government and carriers. There is a lot of it, and it is cheap. Even more importantly, the Wi-Fi capability enables the traffic to be injected - or off-loaded - from the airways to the wired Internet. A femtocell in a home typically would "hang off" a cable modem or DSL connection. The traffic, therefore, would largely travel over wired networks.

That advantage only is the tip of the iceberg. Gupta offers 10 ways in which Wi-Fi integration drives both revenues and efficiencies.

In February, the Femto Forum changed its name to the more descriptive but not quite as alliterative Small Cell Forum. Industry groups change names after its mandate shifts. That certainly is true in this case. From the press release:

The Forum will address all small cells that operate in licensed spectrum, are operator-managed and feature edge-based intelligence-including what have been dubbed femtocells, picocells, microcells and metrocells. It will also support the crossover between small cells and other relevant technologies including: Wi-Fi, cloud RAN (which connects cellular radio to cloud-based intelligence over fibre), Distributed Antenna Systems, as well as macrocells as part of the new heterogeneous network (hetnet) environment.

It's not a done deal, however. At PCWorld, Stephen Lawson pointed out that the bright promise of teaming cells of different sizes and types of radios may be difficult to realize:

However, setting up these radios and gleaning the promised impact from them will be harder than just buying equipment and finding spots that need more capacity, according to carrier and vendor executives and others at the show. Standardization is still a work in progress, there may be hidden costs behind the relatively low prices of small cells and carriers may end up fighting over spots to set them up.

Those are the type of caveats that accompany any fundamental shift in the way things are done. The bigger point is that there is value in driving efficiencies between various types and sizes of cellular-based cells and those, collectively, with Wi-Fi. This will be a very valuable way to stretch the overall capacity of the network - Wi-Fi, licensed, big, small and in-between - as usage skyrockets.

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