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

From a user's viewpoint cellular and Wi-Fi networks will be merging within the next few years.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
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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