Carrier Wi-Fi® for mobile operators: The economics of Wi-Fi small cells (2013)

Carrier Wi-Fi® gives mobile operators a powerful tool to increase capacity in their networks by leveraging the ubiquity of Wi-Fi in mobile devices. Unlike residential and enterprise offload or Wi-Fi access in public hotspots, carrier Wi-Fi allows mobile operators and other service providers to directly manage and retain control over the Wi-Fi infrastructure, and to share it with roaming partners. The specific value proposition of carrier Wi-Fi to mobile operators includes: •Mobile operators or their partners own and operate the network. •Advanced Wi-Fi functionality provides ease of access, security, QoS, and roaming support. In particular, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED PasspointTM enables seamless SIM-based authentication, network selection, and service consistency across access technologies. •Wi-Fi access can be tightly integrated with the cellular network using the framework established by 3GPP standards to offer a common service platform across cellular and Wi-Fi and to optimize network resource utilization. While both small cells and Wi-Fi are effective in providing the additional capacity needed, we expect mobile operators to deploy both, because they have distinct complementary roles. Our TCO analysis explores the costs of deploying carrier Wi-Fi and cellular small cells, either in separate deployments or jointly, sharing the same physical enclosure. We show that carrier Wi-Fi has a lower TCO than cellular (62% of 4G’s) and that the addition of Wi-Fi to 3G and 4G small cells only marginally affects the TCO (a 2% increase when adding Wi-Fi to 4G). The per-bit TCO shows that Wi-Fi provides an even bigger cost advantage over 3G and 4G. A combination of Wi-Fi and cellular provides the most cost-effective solution to increase capacity in high-traffic areas. Operators may deploy small cells with Wi-Fi from the beginning, or deploy carrier Wi-Fi initially and then add 4G to their Wi-Fi network when capacity requirements dictate it.

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