Carrier Wi-Fi to be part of operator mobile strategy

update Many operators looking at carrier-grade Wi-Fi to ease mobile broadband congestion, say market players who point to ongoing standardization efforts.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on

update COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--Mobile operators will implement carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks as part of their mobile broadband strategy in an attempt to ease data congestion on their 3G or LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks, according to market players.

Dave Williams, CTO of mobile broadband access equipment vendor Stoke, said Wi-Fi provides carriers free spectrum on top of their existing wireless networks. For example, operators in North America where there is spectrum constraint are looking at small cells combined with Wi-Fi networks, he added.

Carrier-grade Wi-Fi will also help telcos address the loss of visibility and network control when users switch to private or public Wi-Fi networks, Williams said during his keynote at the Next-Generation Mobile Broadband conference track at the tradeshow here Tuesday morning.

The executive believes, in 10 years' time, carriers will be deploying Wi-Fi services alongside LTE.

However, Wi-Fi today does not have an "end-to-end service provider" and operators want some standardization in carrier-grade Wi-Fi. Williams noted that for a Wi-Fi connection to take place, there needs to be communication between the handset, access point, access control policies, and other parts of the network. However, there is no single provider able to offer all these services.

Wi-Fi standardization ongoing
Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, noted that his organization was working on one standard for carrier Wi-Fi, called the Next-Generation Hotspot.

With the standard, the alliance hopes to make Wi-Fi connectivity as seamless as GSM connectivity is now, Shenwai said, adding that trials for Next-Generation Hotspot are ongoing.

Hans Pang, solution architect at Ruckus Wireless, also highlighted various efforts to standardize carrier Wi-Fi. The IEEE, for instance, is working on the 802.11u standard which aims to seamlessly connect different devices, while the Wi-Fi Alliance's project focuses on the Wi-Fi-certified Passpoint, which is also known as Hotspot 2.0, Pang said.

Elaborating on how Wi-Fi-certified Passpoint works, he said when a user turns on his phone, the Wi-Fi hotspot would send signals to indicate it is Passpoint-enabled. The handset in turn will probe back to inform it is also Passpoint-capable. The device then will choose an access point and perform an Access Network Query Protocol (ANQP) query with its list of pre-programed criteria and connect to the right network, he explained.

Stoke's Willliams also suggested competing carriers shared Wi-Fi resources instead of building separate hotspots. For example, carriers could deploy a single Wi-Fi hotspot in a stadium based on a revenue share model, he said.

There is also business opportunity in Wi-Fi for fixed-line operators and even homeowners by providing radio access network onload, he said. This means fixed-line service providers or homeowners can provide supplementary Wi-Fi services to mobile operators by becoming Wi-Fi hotspots for subscribers, he said.

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