Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™ - Enabling “Neutral Host” deployments of state-of-the-art Wi-Fi®
November 30, 2016 by Thomas Derham, Broadcom Corporation
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Vantage™ is the new certification designation from Wi-Fi Alliance® for mobile devices and Access Points (APs) that support features needed to deliver an excellent user experience in managed Wi-Fi® networks. These scenarios include:
- Public hotspots in shopping malls, stations, airports, parks, and downtown areas over wide coverage areas
- Venue hotspots in stadiums and hotels
- Enterprise Wi-Fi in offices, campuses, schools and hospitals
- Community Wi-Fi (or “homespots”) provided by residential broadband routers
Wi-Fi Vantage™ will evolve on a rolling release cycle, with the latest and most advanced Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ features and technologies added with each release. With each new rollout, the user experience will be further enhanced and the technology will address new emerging use cases.
The Wi-Fi service provider ecosystem
One of the key advantages of Wi-Fi is that, since it operates in unlicensed spectrum, it is remarkably simple and inexpensive to deploy a Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi is a great enabler of “permission-less innovation” and, as a result, a thriving ecosystem of service providers of all shapes and sizes has formed. Those service providers have deployed their own Wi-Fi networks with a correspondingly broad range of business models, including:
- Dedicated subscription and/or advertising-sponsored internet hotspots
- Cellular operators providing Wi-Fi offload and LTE/Wi-Fi integration (often including full access to carrier services such as Wi-Fi Calling, IMS-based video services, etc.)
- “Wi-Fi First” subscription-based operators building broad coverage Wi-Fi infrastructure
- Multiple service providers in a “Roaming Consortium” which allow each other’s customers to connect to any of their Wi-Fi networks
- Wireline operators providing wireless hotspot connectivity as a value-add to their customers
- Community Wi-Fi operators leveraging residential gateways in customers’ homes to provide wide area internet connectivity
- Retail stores providing free internet and/or dedicated portal services (e.g. product information, online retail, coupons, etc.) to their customers
- Venues such as sports stadiums that provide both internet access and exclusive multimedia content (e.g. video replays of the game)
- Hotels, conference centers and public transportation providing online hospitality services and internet access (sometimes with tiered pricing according to the connection speed)
- Digital service providers deploying dedicated hotspots that provide high-speed access to exclusive services such as movie downloads, voice, teleconferencing and social media
In some of these cases, the primary offer is Wi-Fi internet connectivity as a service. In other cases, the primary offer is specific digital content or services, and Wi-Fi is simply being leveraged as a convenient means to deliver those services to customers. In all cases, a service provider benefits from providing its own Wi-Fi network because it can better control and differentiate on the end-to-end user experience – including the process of accessing the network, the speed and reliability of the service once connected to the network, and the ability to offer a digital touchpoint with customers through portal services.
Neutral Host Wi-Fi
While it is certainly true that deploying Wi-Fi infrastructure is not nearly as complex as deploying a cellular network, it can still be a logistical challenge when many different service providers all want to deploy their own Wi-Fi networks in the same venue. The availability of appropriate physical locations for all the APs, along with access to mains power and high-speed backhaul connectivity, all become serious issues. Ensuring efficient coexistence of multiple independent Wi-Fi networks (e.g. RF channel and interference management) becomes a further challenge. Further, and perhaps most importantly, the disruption caused by installation and maintenance of multiple network infrastructures is very unappealing for the venue owner.
The solution to all these issues, which is becoming increasingly popular, is known as Neutral Host Wi-Fi. In essence, a single network operator (which might be the venue owner itself, or a specialist organization) deploys and manages a single physical Wi-Fi infrastructure in the venue (Access Points, backhaul, controllers, gateways, etc). The network operator then creates and hosts “virtual” Wi-Fi networks for each service provider, onto which they deploy their service. From the perspective of end-users, these virtual networks appear and behave identically to separate physical networks. Further, the service provider can retain broadly the same control over its virtual network as if its own physical infrastructure was deployed.
Wi-Fi Vantage provides the essential components to enable “Neutral Host” Wi-Fi. We’ll explore those technologies in Part II of this blog coming later this week.
Thomas is a Principal Scientist in the Wireless Combo Connectivity Group at Broadcom. He works on optimizing the user experience and performance of managed Wi-Fi networks, including hotspots, enterprise and residential. He is a leading participant in several Wi-Fi Alliance task groups that are developing key technologies in the current and future Wi-Fi Vantage certification.