ACG Research

ACG Research
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mobility Winners Will Bridge Cellular and WiFi

But at what cost to the backhaul networks?

On the heels of 4GWorld in Chicago this year, it is rapidly becoming apparent that users’ behaviors are slanting more toward the nomadic than being truly mobile users. According to a 2011 Deloitte study, traffic on WiFi networks is expected to increase must faster – up to 50% - than data on cellular networks. This aligns well with common wisdom that says about 70% of a user’s traffic is from home or at work and only about 30% is when the user is truly mobile. This puts WiFi square in the sights of the cellular operators so that they can help alleviate cell congestion, but it raises a host of issues:
  • Backhaul is the #1 problem for many WiFi networks and is typically in the megabit range for many businesses, not nearly enough to support even a handful of 4G users on smartphones or laptops
  • Unlicensed spectrum is just that, unlicensed, and carries the possibility of interference and congestion from other networks
  • Security is not standardized with the carrier networks and is often nonexistent in many facilities, something the 802.11/HotSpot 2.0 standards are working to address
  • Quality of service is a high demand (and becoming more so) at sites where the users are more stationary and hitting the networks harder with larger downloads, streaming audio and video and two-way conferencing.
A number of equipment vendors (for example, Cisco with its Service Provider WiFi solutions) are stepping up to address these issues. Small players include BelAir Networks, Ruckus Wireless and Alvarion, companies working on a seamless combination of small cell and WiFi infrastructure.

The hardest problem or perhaps the most expensive problem to solve is that of backhaul. As the cellular operators found out with the 4G upgrades, sufficient backhaul has a huge, positive impact on users’ experiences; insufficient backhaul creates poor experiences.

According to BelAir Networks, a combination of small cell/WiFi service can increase capacity by 100x. Those are the kinds of numbers that get the operators’ attention (if the operators can address the many issues important to their users).

Chris Nicoll

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