Wi-Fi in a ‘Carrier’ class of its own

May 06, 2015 //By Steve Hratko, Ruckus Wireless
Wi-Fi in a ‘Carrier’ class of its own
More and more mobile operators are integrating Wi-Fi into their RAN infrastructure to supplement data network coverage, support LTE rollouts, and even introduce new Wi-Fi calling services. Steve Hratko, Director of Service Provider Marketing at Ruckus Wireless, explains how operators can make the most of integrating Wi-Fi into their network core.

Today’s subscribers demand seamless wireless data access, and operators – both mobile and fixed line – are under pressure to meet this insatiable demand. Mobile network operators have responded to this surge in demand by investing in LTE network technology to deliver high-speed broadband, but the rollout of LTE services continues to be costly, and thus, gradual in many parts of the world. In order to maintain a judicious pace of network expansion while still meeting subscriber expectations, operators are turning to Wi-Fi to accommodate the huge surge in data traffic on their networks. They have discovered that Wi-Fi is not just a secondary channel to offload data traffic, it has become integral to their network infrastructure.

Wi-Fi provides an attractive option to operators looking to cost-effectively scale the capacity, efficiency and footprint of their existing networks. Where Wi-Fi was once seen as a competing technology to cellular, it is now an essential part of an operator’s mobile offering. Tier one operators are now looking to leverage smart, carrier-class Wi-Fi solutions to deploy a complete, end-to-end, managed wireless infrastructure that provides reliable mobile data access.

Wi-Fi, of course, didn’t begin life as a carrier technology. It was originally conceived as primarily a consumer and enterprise focused Internet access technology, restricted to indoor, high-density locations. Mobile operators were originally reluctant to adopt Wi-Fi, as it used unlicensed spectrum, which was looked upon as difficult to manage and unreliable. This was an alien concept for MNOs that had built their businesses on (and have spent billions of dollars on) licensed spectrum, over which they had total ownership and control. But the perception of Wi-Fi has changed. This is largely due to the fact that Wi-Fi solutions are now comprised of highly efficient and focused access points (APs) and network management software and hardware, much of which supports a new protocol called Hotspot 2.0 Release 2. This ensures the delivery of reliable, carrier-class Wi-Fi that seamlessly integrates with existing cellular networks.

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