There’s a boom underway for carrier Wi-Fi as many carriers realize that LTE won’t be enough to meet the predicted growth in bandwidth demand for mobile Internet services.
Industry research firm Infonetics predicts that the carrier Wi-Fi equipment market will grow to $2.1 billion by 2016. Already, the firm found 35% growth in the market for Wi-Fi access points from 2010 to 2011. Another proof point: AT&T Wireless, the most aggressive Wi-Fi provider of US carriers, has said that in 2012, smartphone connections to its Wi-Fi network more than doubled to 2.7 billion.
One reason for the growth is new high-speed Wi-Fi technology like 5 Gbps 802.11ac that is now coming on-market and is a great fit for metro Wi-Fi deployments.
Another reason is that carriers are rethinking their entire RAN strategy and moving from tightly managed infrastructure of macro cells to a more ad hoc infrastructure that includes small cells and hot spots. This cultural shift is opening more doors for Wi-Fi offloading.
Once the dust settles, carriers will realize that an important component of this shift is Wi-Fi offload software that drives mobile data traffic to carrier-owned or carrier-sponsored Wi-Fi sources while still ensuring a high-quality subscriber experience.
Wi-Fi offload is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to accommodating the ever-increasing demands placed on carrier networks. But not paying attention to the offload question could mean customer service problems.
Consider the case of Deutsche Telekom, which recently announced a deal to expand its hotspot network in Germany to more than 2.5 million hotspots through a deal with Spanish crowdsourced Wi-Fi hotspot provider, Fon (pronounced “phone”).
People open up their hotspots to Fon in exchange for free roaming services or payments based on usage. This is an innovative concept, but the two companies will need to have tools in place to make sure the end user Wi-Fi experience is a good one. Otherwise a smartphone could enter into an underpowered or old-technology Fon hotspot that would deliver performance that is poorer than the cellular network. If the phone were forced to switch to Wi-Fi without considering quality of experience metrics, unhappy customers would likely follow.
Our Open Channel Seamless Mobility and Open Channel Wi-Fi QoE software help create a positive experience for subscribers in offloading situations. Seamless Mobility provides uninterrupted data service for applications as devices move between the carrier network and Wi-Fi sources. Wi-Fi QoE helps to ensure that the user will have a satisfactory quality of experience before an offloading decision is executed. The software measures subscriber QoE continuously and in real time, allowing carriers to drive data traffic to Wi-Fi while improving the customer experience. It’s a win/win for both mobile operators and their subscribers.
Even though Wi-Fi offload has been an element of operational strategies for years, carriers can see the writing on the wall regarding LTE overloading and have started to act. Seamless network transitions and subscriber QoE are critical parts of making this heterogeneous network strategy successful.