Wi-Fi’s Cellular Make-Over

Everybody wants data access everywhere. Wireless demand is outstripping capacity. In response, more carriers are integrating Wi-Fi into the core RAN and discovering not just that it solves capacity issues but that it offers real opportunities for monetisation. This is the view of Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus Wireless, a provider of advanced wireless systems for the mobile Internetworking market. Lo believes that capacity and monetisation issues are closely connected, driving the carrier need for smarter Wi-Fi that increases the range and variety of wireless signals.

The demand is being driven by smartphone users and the game-changing impact of LTE; industry estimates suggest sales in the order of a billion units in 2013 creating a world in which the need to authenticate and log-on, depending on location or radio access technology, is going to be old hat. Wi-Fi will simply weave into the fabric of the world’s mobile networks – backhauling traffic into the mobile packet core. This approach requires a gateway that can bridge the world of the Wi-Fi RAN to the core – a cellular make-over that changes the service experience for subscribers and opens up revenue streams for carriers.

Subscribers aren’t concerned about nuances in radio access technologies; they just want the same set of services wherever they are without having to get into the admin of sorting out their connection. Carriers, of course, are concerned – this is where the ARPU is slipping away. So, if Wi-Fi is bridged into the core, carriers can exercise greater control over billing (pre-paid and post), policy, lawful intercept, roaming, authentication, addressing, mobility management, and content filtering, to name but a few key areas. It even opens up the possibility of session persistence as a user moves between the 3G/LTE RANs and the Wi-Fi RAN.

According to Lo, using a gateway to connect Wi-Fi into the core also provides another sort of gateway – into new service enablement – an area where the cellular world excels. Platforms will become available through the gateway approach that can be used for analytics, reporting, location based services, personalisation, loyalty programmes and other similar initiatives that derive their effectiveness from a carrier’s ability to keep the subscriber in the fold. There was a time when mobile carriers viewed Wi-Fi as handy to have around. It soaked up problems here and there; providing extra capacity at crunch times, providing offload opportunities in the same way as a steam valve lets off the steam. Open the valve and the pressure drops – the problem goes away. But, the carriers were largely unprepared for their customers to evolve so quickly, with devices that demanded so much, so constantly, so diversely and so universally. Now everybody knows the meaning of the word data, because they pay for it, they subscribe to have it. Everybody wants access.

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