Effectively alleviate bottlenecks with Wi-Fi

Effectively alleviate bottlenecks with Wi-Fi

Iain Brotherston QiComm

Iain Brotherston QiComm

By Iain Brotherson, head of systems integration, QiComm

QiComm believes one option for network operators to prevent bottlenecks caused by heavy data traffic loads is to turn to long range Wi-Fi and offload some of the traffic.

Today’s networks are struggling to keep up with the demands of the exponential growth in broadband data traffic. As additional clients join the mobile carrier network to use more data hungry applications, the networks are being stretched beyond their design limits, and bottlenecks begin to form.

These bottlenecks are bringing networks to their knees and leaving service providers not only exposed to the risks of delivering a bad user experience, but unable to leverage additional revenue available from handling data traffic.

3G is strugglingh

Whilst a large number of wireless operators are looking to deploy new 4G networks using LTE in the future, today’s 3G networks are struggling to handle the heavy data traffic loads. As an option mobile carriers should look to deploy a Wi-Fi network as an overlay to their existing 3G deployment to offload some of the data traffic.


For years, wireless carriers have had misgivings about Wi-Fi, concerned that its rising popularity might slow demand for their own wireless technologies. Now, Wi-Fi may represent a viable option for carriers whose networks are lacking the capacity to handle the bandwidth intensive traffic surging from the increasing use of smartphones and tablet PCs.

According to Cisco, overall mobile data traffic is expected to grow at an annual rate of 92% between 2010 and 2015. The projected growth of 6.3 exabytes per month by 2015 represents a 26-fold increase over 2010.


How Wi-Fi can help

By deploying their own Wi-Fi network as a partial and focused overlay to their existing 3G network, carriers are able to access up to 10 times more bandwidth currently being offered through their existing network.

With Cisco claiming that consumer demand for mobile content is set to outpace the needed spending and innovation in network capacity for years to come, Wi-Fi offers operators the ability to offload some of their data traffic onto a higher capacity, less expensive network, which requires a fraction of capital expenditure of setting up new mobile towers & base stations and other similar solutions.

Traditional Wi-Fi has always been restricted by the ability of the client to maintain connectivity to an access point over long distances. Typically the user needs to be within 200m proximity to a base station with a Wi-Fi enabled device to enable the operator to provide seamless roaming between its mobile network and Wi-Fi hotspots.

However, we have been testing a solution in the UK that provides exceptional coverage, and an extended range compared to traditional technologies, for example, access to an Apple iPhone was maintained at a distance in excess of 540m with line of sight (LOS) to the base station, with  >3.8Mbps throughput. In addition, results from a trial set up in Whitechapel, London, exhibited similar results and in both cases the UK regulatory Power Limit of 20dBm EIRP was adhered to.

This trial is extending to the Middle East where access from a clients device is expected to reach >1.7km away from the base station. This is because the power limits are largely unrestricted and the maximum power settings of the solution can be utilised.


Long distance Wi-Fi

Gaining access to a Wi-Fi network from a greater distance means further savings can be realised, as less base stations will be required to cover the same area, therefore reducing installation, operational and support costs.

The fact that carriers are moving aggressively towards 4G doesn’t negate the need for Wi-Fi, as it would be challenging for operators to carry everything on their networks. Using Wi-Fi to offload traffic could become a crucial part of a carriers wireless network, regardless of whether they’re deploying 4G or not.

One of the biggest perceived hurdles that mobile carriers face when it comes to Wi-Fi offloading is authenticating users on operator hot spots. 

The fact is, mobile carriers should be looking to build their own Wi-Fi networks into their existing wireless network, rather than leveraging hotspots they don’t own or control.  Having ownership of the Wi-Fi network will enable customers to seamlessly roam between the mobile and Wi-Fi networks without even realising. The idea is that the device will be able to pick the best available network, whether that’s a 3G or 4G or Wi-Fi.

Furthermore with ownership of the Wi-Fi network being retained by the carrier, when a customer enters the carriers’ Wi-Fi zone, you are automatically authenticated and the carrier will know it’s you and what service plan you have subscribed to. Even if you are an unsubscribed customer you should still obtain access via Wi-Fi for free but with a reduced service.

Although much of the talk is turning to 4G these days, Wi-Fi is increasingly looking like a critical way for carriers to deal with the data traffic surge and keep the mobile broadband boom alive.

QiComm is an independent provider of voice and data systems, information technology solutions and technical outsourcing. http://www.qicomm.com/

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