Carrier Wi-Fi®: A futureproof approach to expanded Wi-Fi public access (2013)
Driven by market demand and the evolution of Wi-Fi technology, carrier Wi-Fi® is on an accelerated-growth ramp, gaining traction among many fixed and mobile operators. Operators see Wi-Fi as a way to increase network capacity, reduce costs and improve the subscriber experience.
Carrier Wi-Fi relies on networks owned and operated by fixed or mobile operators in public locations that provide access to their subscribers, roaming partner subscribers, and venue visitors. Fixed operators view carrier Wi‑Fi as a powerful technology to expand coverage beyond home and office, and to deepen subscriber loyalty by offering highly valued Wi-Fi access in public venues. Mobile operators are expanding Wi-Fi’s role, increasingly adopting it as a mature radio access network (RAN) technology that is an ideal complement to their macro-cell and small-cell networks. Wi-Fi delivers a capacity boost at a lower per-bit cost, enabling operators to support new services and satisfy subscriber demand for high-bandwidth, real-time video and other multimedia content.
Multiple market factors have brought carrier Wi-Fi to the forefront – including traffic growth, mobile devices adoption, and coexistence of Wi-Fi and cellular infrastructure in small cells. Operators are fully embracing Wi-Fi as a central element in their deployment and service strategies.
With technological advances, carrier Wi-Fi has come of age, able to leverage the demand for Wi-Fi in public networks. Wi-Fi Alliance® has taken a leading role to ensure that the Wi-Fi experience in public venues is seamless and secure for users, and that operators can rely on high performance and advanced capabilities. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint™ provides the foundation for a new type of Wi-Fi experience in public locations. Today Passpoint supports seamless SIM-based authentication, automatic network selection and access, and security. The next Passpoint release will include online signup for mobile devices without a SIM card, and support for policy control. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ ac strengthens the contribution of Passpoint by increasing network capacity and improving performance for multimedia content.
The business case for carrier Wi-Fi is strong. Because of its high data rates and efficient spectrum utilization, the cost of carrying Wi-Fi access traffic is substantially lower than for cellular, creating an incentive for operators to widen their Wi-Fi footprint. A study by Senza Fili and commissioned by Wi-Fi Alliance showed that the per-bit TCO for carrier Wi-Fi is 42 percent of that for LTE over a five-year period. By combining cellular and Wi-Fi in high-traffic areas, mobile operators can increase their capacity, extend coverage and improve the subscriber experience cost effectively, especially if both Wi-Fi and cellular small cells are jointly deployed.
The expansion of carrier Wi-Fi will promote the emergence of new business models and the wider adoption of existing ones. Operators are keen to explore new ways to leverage their own Wi-Fi networks or gain access to others, through roaming partnerships, infrastructure-sharing or wholesale agreements, home networks, and walk-up hotspots.
The convergence of market demand and more advanced technology, supported by strong financial benefits and new business models, makes carrier Wi-Fi a compelling addition to fixed and mobile networks today, as operators strive to differentiate and monetize their services. Wi-Fi is a trusted technology that delivers the performance operators need at a price they can afford.
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