The move by mobile operator O2 to deploy a free Wi-Fi zone in London marks the first step in converting the capital into a truly wireless connected city. Wi-Fi hotspots provide dedicated areas of coverage in city centres and mobile operators now recognise the need to integrate Wi-Fi into their networks to enable data offload and provide subscribers with uninterrupted data access, widespread coverage and a seamless crossover between 3G, Wi-Fi and even 4G (LTE).
As mobile operators have discovered from the increase of data traffic on their networks, the issue of capacity has become just as important as coverage. This also applies to Wi-Fi, service providers will have to deploy Wi-Fi networks with the bandwidth to cope with highly populated, dense urban environments.
This is the view of Arnaud Le Hung, EMEA Marketing Director at Ruckus Wireless, a provider of advanced wireless systems for the mobile network market. Le Hung believes that ubiquitous wireless data access can be achieved through the development of integrated networks, which enable the simultaneous use of 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi technologies. Operators will need to deploy systems that manage high levels of users in a designated area to ensure that they have the bandwidth required to support an individual data session; catering for everything from consuming video on a tablet to browsing the web on a smartphone.
London will experience a huge spike in demand for wireless broadband access this summer as people flock to the city for the Olympic Games. London 2012 organisers estimate there will be at least 500,000 spectators and over half a million visitors to affiliated events and cultural sites. Operators will face the challenge of having to deal with a deluge of requests for travel information, live sporting updates and access to wireless broadband services, and applications. Operators will need to have an infrastructure in place that will scale to meet peaks in data usage when they occur, and have the capacity to sustain those peaks.
According to Le Hung, operators were reluctant to adopt Wi-Fi because it was felt that it would be a competing technology to 3G. User authentication was also seen as a major issue when offloading subscribers onto a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, by integrating Wi-Fi connectivity into their own network infrastructure, operators can allow subscribers to seamlessly roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks without the need for authentication; or the end-user having to adapt the settings on their device. This will become apparent as Wi-Fi hotspots become universally accessible, thanks to the adoption of 802.11u standard, allowing users to connect without the need for constant authentication.