Carrier class Wi-Fi networks are now beginning to serve a much more strategic purpose, with operators assessing the long term role for Wi-Fi as a complement to 4G/LTE.
Wi-Fi was initially designed for relatively low mobility, but high capacity environments. Conversely, LTE and other licensed cellular technologies offer macro coverage and relatively high mobility but at a much higher cost. A complementary solution is achieved when the two technologies are deployed in tandem. With no spectrum licenses and no long lead times or complex configuration, Wi-Fi technology delivers reliable indoor and outdoor broadband services at a fraction of the cost and complexity of conventional macro alternatives.
Operators are now starting to integrate carrier class Wi-Fi into LTE small cells. By deploying small cells within their macro networks, it gives operators the ability to create more efficient heterogeneous network services that allow them to more quickly and easily scale capacity and coverage as needed.
Installing a Wi-Fi infrastructure is the first step in securing physical locations that allow mobile operators to introduce Wi-Fi and small cell LTE solutions. Operators who have suitable locations for Wi-Fi offload are not only solving the short term immediate capacity needs of the network, they are also ensuring a much easier transition to small cell LTE and solidifying their longer term strategic needs for the future.
Wi-Fi finds its voice
With LTE and Wi-Fi integration underway, operators have also discovered other uses cases for Wi-Fi apart from data offload, meaning there is now even an opportunity to monetize Wi-Fi. Many operators have recently launched Wi-Fi calling services. Wi-Fi calling is the ability to place a cellular call using a cellular voice stack in a smartphone (in this case LTE) over a Wi-Fi network, and then terminating it on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) complex in the mobile network operator’s data centre. This is very different from over-the-top services like Skype because it is native to the smartphone (not a third party application) and it connects in exactly the same way that a traditional voice call would work. It also supports seamless network handoff as the user moves between Wi-Fi and LTE coverage areas. This has opened up the potential to rollout new voice and video calling services for domestic markets and even for international roaming services.