Mobile to go Wi-Fi within a year: Cisco

Mobile to go Wi-Fi within a year: Cisco

Summary: Technologists at telecommunications hardware provider Cisco have predicted that within the next few months mobile carriers will begin to use offloading to seamlessly load-balance data from cellular networks on to faster, lower-latency Wi-Fi networks.


Technologists at telecommunications hardware provider Cisco have predicted that within the next few months mobile carriers will begin to use offloading to seamlessly load-balance data from cellular networks on to faster, lower-latency Wi-Fi networks.

At a media briefing in North Sydney last week, Cisco Systems Australia chief technology officer Kevin Bloch said that in the next 12 months, he expected that carriers like Telstra would begin to make use of Wi-Fi to help balance the load from their cellular networks.

Bloch and Cisco vice president of global technology policy, Dr Robert Pepper, said that it was entirely possible. He said they had already seen examples of the technology in work in the US, where a user could walk into a Starbucks with Wi-Fi access and have their phone automatically and seamlessly take advantage of the lower latency and faster connection of the hotspot, with the carrier charged for the usage.

The process, which the pair called offloading, would use the next generation of wireless hotspot infrastructure that would allow the user to be tracked and connected by identifying their SIM card. This would be used to tie the wireless device to the handset and make it possible to hand off the data connection and allow mobile carriers to bill for the added capability if it required.

According to Pepper, the advantage of using a hotspot would be that in small areas such as coffee shops, there would be the expectation that the number of users would be relatively low, reducing contention. However, both he and Bloch stressed that the back-end infrastructure needed to both support the hand-off process and be connected to a high-capacity backbone, such as fibre.

Businesses struggling with 3G blackspots, but who had existing Wi-Fi investments would be quick to form relationships with mobile carriers, Bloch said, explaining that business users would appreciate the additional bandwidth an immediate Wi-Fi offload would give them.

"Let's say I want to do a print from my iPad. If I do that over 3G on my mobile ... you have a bandwidth constraint. I'm shoving it all the way back to the exchange and coming back to print, whereas with Wi-Fi, I go straight to the printer," Bloch said.

One thing offloading would help solve, said Pepper, with the aid of fibre roll-outs, was latency. He said that in the future, latency would become more important in applications such as collaborative cloud computing. In these cases, he said latency of less than 50ms — a figure that he said most countries' networks had trouble achieving — would become the bare minimum standard to make these applications usable.

He further pointed to the example of future traffic systems where a highway's early warning system might automatically communicate with vehicles in the event of an unexpected incident and require sub-millisecond response times.

As to when offloading would be delivered, Bloch said carriers that were further behind than others, such as Vodafone, would take longer to develop such networks and could not simply use Wi-Fi as a shortcut to improve their performance.

"What [Vodafone have] got to do, in my opinion, and what they're doing is making sure they're getting back up to speed with their existing business. When they get their head above that ... then they will probably have to think about other things like Wi-Fi," he said.

"They, of the three, have got their work cut out for them. It's not a shortcut because at the end of the day, [phones] talk to the network via 3G licensed spectrum."

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Cisco, Mobility, Networking, Telcos, Optus, Telstra

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Didn't Telstra recently closed down its WiFi network? Surely they wouldn't have done that if they were planning to use WiFi for mobile broadband offload?
    • Yes, Telstra dumped the silly concept of having wi-fi hotspots everywhere because there 3G and 4G network speeds were often faster than the hotspots which in most cases were limited to ADSL backhaul speeds.
      These silly Cisco execs should wake up and understand the Australian telco market a little better. We don't copy what the stupid yanks do. Mobile carriers in the USA have stupidly congested and bandwidth limited networks that they have horrible wireless data speeds compared to here in Australia and as a result they have no choice but to offload on to Wi-fi networks.
      The prediction in this article is one of the most silly predictions I've heard come out of Cisco. Until our last mile fixed internet access networks improve considerably (which only the NBN will resolve over time) there isn't a chance in hell that mobile carriers will be prepared to leach off slow ADSL connected wi-fi terminals for their customers. It's a crazy unviable solution. These Cisco execs should go back to ripping off customers with over-priced hardware and support contracts filled with bugs and leave our mobile comms market to do what it does best in rolling out more 3G and 4G sites. The last thing we need is for Australia to copy the USA mobile comms market which is a complete joke. Well done yanks on going your own way on developing your own myopic standards. How's that going for ya?
      • You seem to have a strong opinion about this and that is good. However your assumptions don’t seem to be on target with the rest of the world. The US isn’t the only place trying to go Wi-Fi for data off load.
        Maybe us “Yanks” (BTW: a term that implies a small part of the US not everyone) just have more users trying to get on the cell networks? Maybe only a few people in Australian have smart phones? The problem with cell phones is that they are made for range. This means a tower has to cover a large area and with it a large number of people. Since wireless is a shared medium this is a bad thing. Towers get over loaded with people trying stream videos, downloading apps and upload videos/pictures. Remember only one person can transmit at a time. Towers quickly run out of “air time”. Since the cell towers go so far you can’t reuse the channels to get the user density under controller.
        That is why WiFi is coming on strong. The super small coverage cells allow you can reuse channels without interfering between them. If try to compare WiFi in a high client density areas, such as a city, it will blow cell towers out of the water. Being able to reuse channels is where the advantage comes in.

        Your comment about slow ADSL connections isn’t a problem with the WiFi offload strategy, it is a problem with the infrastructure. Maybe Australia isn’t really for WiFi offload because the backbone isn’t there? One day you will have to get there. There is no reason to get mad at us “stupid yanks” because we got there before you. You should be happy you can learn from us as we pave the way for you.
      • I think you need to consider the cross subsidy between voice, data and SMS and the effect of contention on speed in wireless networks. Within that context it makes eminent sense to offload certainly 3G and even LTE which Telstra suggests in worst case could run at less than 10% of the best case ADSL2+ speeds.

        It additionally makes sense to offload voice traffic when the available WiFi network offers a higher QoS than is available over the LTE or 3G network.

        From the carrier's perspective, allowing offloading directs traffic into cheaper (per megabit) access networks allowing them to defer CapEx and allowing for a more efficient allocation of network resources. Since the cost of enabling offloading is small in comparison to the cost of adding more mobile network capacity then its business case could well be justified.
  • What are these guys smoking? Yeah my smartphone will automatically "off-load" onto a wifi network, but the carrier has no idea that it has done that. They can dream that they'd like to back-bill the carrier... good luck with that. (Notice how well the femtocell is working out, where they want me to pay twice, to my ISP _and_ my cell carrier, to carry my data?)
    • Using existing technology, you're correct, but Cisco in this case is talking about the next generation of hotspots. How carriers bill isn't Cisco's concern -- they're just the equipment vendor after all -- but I would think that this addresses the current problems of double billing -if- it takes off.

      Michael Lee (Mukimu)
  • This idea isn't something for the future, it's happening now. Seoul South Korea are having Motorola deploy an extensive Wifi network, mainly for the purpose of 3G offload. How they are handling the "back-charging" of the telcos I have no idea.