The merger of cellular and Wi-Fi: The wireless network's future

The merger of cellular and Wi-Fi: The wireless network's future

Summary: From a user's viewpoint cellular and Wi-Fi networks will be merging within the next few years.

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In the near-future, end-users will have a seamless Wi-Fi/cellular wireless network experience.

Las Vegas – Today we talk about 801.11ac, 4G, and LTE Advanced, but what users really want is just fast, reliable wireless networking that works everywhere. According to the experts, we're going to give it to them... eventually.

In a CES panel entitled "Six Wireless Technologies You'll Want to Know," the conversation quickly spun from being an overview of such technologies to how these Wi-Fi and cellular networking were coming together.

Behind the scenes, chip designers, network engineers, and network administrators will still be supporting a horde of different technologies, but the goal is to render the network infrastructure invisible to end-users. Dan Rabinovits, Senior VP at Qualcomm Atheros said, "the combination of all the new networking technologies is more important than any one technology." That's because, "users have an endless thirst for data capacity."

Iyad Tarazi, Sprint 's VP of Network Development & Engineering agreed, "Customers want cell and Wi-Fi integration. They don't want 4G or 802.11, they want heterogeneous networks and they want it fast, reliable, available and they want it right away. The only way that be done is with network integration."

I want chocolate chip cookies for lunch every day of the week too but that doesn't mean I'll get them. To give users transparent network connectivity no matter whether they're in the office or in their car, the experts are looking to several different technologies. The first of these is Hotspot 2.0.

With Hotspot 2.0, once a user is authorized on the network, it uses the IEEE  802.11u standard to enable your networked device to find, and automatically select and connect to your preferred Wi-Fi and/or cellular networks Once you're logged into the network, you can roam between Wi-Fi hotspot and to LTE and back again without needing to login back in.

That's great but how do you deliver bandwidth to all these mobile users? One way of doing this, according to Rabinovits, will be the continued rise of small and femtocell stations. These are  small, low-power cellular base station that can share out both cellular and Wi-Fi bandwidth.

All cellular and wireless vendors are working on these devices. And, everyone is also working on setting these mini-cell systems up so that they can be deployed in a rapid, self-organizing way. Mark McDiarmid, VP Radio Network Engineering and Development for T-Mobile warns, however that while "this is the vision of small cell. The harsh reality is that the provisioning systems are extremely complicated; the backhaul tech to give small cells their bandwidth is still a problem; and a lot of work still needs to be done with power-management. We have to go there, but we're not there yet."

We will have to go there though. Users are demanding it. They don't want to fool with network connections, they just want universal connectivity and they want it yesterday.

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Topics: Wi-Fi, 4G, Mobility, Networking

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3 comments
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  • That's up to the carriers, not the experts.

    "According to the experts, we're going to give it to them... eventually."

    Unfortunately, that's up to the carriers, not the experts.

    Is it technically possible? Sure. The tech is all there. My phone switches between cell and WiFi effortlessly. There's no tech barrier at all. The switch is already completely invisible.

    The barrier is in the $$$$, not the tech. Cell phone companies aren't gonna give up on their draconian two year slave contracts any time soon.
    CobraA1
  • Well I see it's a LONG way off

    CobraA1 is right, it's up to the carriers. I do have a phone that can access local wireless networks and use IP connection instead of the carriers signal, but it only works when I'm in range of a wireless network that I have the access codes for. That won't change, even in Steven's magical world.

    Why did I buy that phone? Because I live in a dead spot for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. I gave up after three carrers and figured my house really is in a dead spot.

    I looked specifically for a phone with IP calling, so bought a cheesy Android 2.1 phone (last October) so I could call from my house.

    The sporatic nature of wireless networks and dead spots in the existing wireless system must be fixed before any universal magical system that Steven speaks of can even be considered.

    Maybe in a decade or two. Even the gigabit wireless he's so hot on right now is pretty much pointless. Not enough capacity increase over Wireless N to make a difference.

    As usual, Steven is out to lunch on someone elses money.
    Cynical99
  • Can We Have Cellular Access At Wi-Fi Prices, Please?

    Currently I have a 25GB monthly allowance on my home ADSL. But as soon as I leave home, Internet access on my phone costs me a minimum of 10¢ a megabyte. Or in other words, $100/GB.

    If I could have a uniform rate for both, guess which one I would prefer?
    ldo17