Wi-Fi offload may be the answer to mobile broadband demand

December 20, 2012 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Despite its potential to siphon off revenue from core 4G/LTE services, Wi-Fi offload will continue to attract strong interest from mobile network operators because of its ability to expand mobile broadband capacity at a low cost, according to the latest report from Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider.

"While LTE networks and technologies continue to mature, it is both obvious and tempting for MNOs to leverage the ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi to their benefit and eventually to meet mass-market demand," notes Claus Hetting, research analyst with Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider and author of the report. "The current belief among network vendors and MNOs is that Wi-Fi is needed and will become an integral part of the MNO technology landscape. This attitude represents a sea change, because until recently Wi-Fi was frowned upon as the inept little brother of 'real' mobile network technology, such as 3G and LTE."

Wi-Fi technology is an attractive option for MNOs when building wireless high-capacity networks, Hetting says. "The TCO of building Wi-Fi networks is allegedly around a tenth of that of 3G/4G network equivalents, so the business case looks strong provided that technical issues and commercial hurdles are resolved. The Wi-Fi and mobile industries are on convergent paths although it is likely to take a few years before the two technologies will be operating with end-to-end seamlessness."

Key findings of Wi-Fi Offload: Benefits Trump Costs for Mobile Operators include:

  1. Carriers will need small cells, but what kinds will be preferred? Wi-Fi is becoming the increasingly attractive low-cost option above or complementary to 3G/4G;
  2. The road to 4G/Wi-Fi offload seamlessness is complex, involving a host of new required protocols and technologies on both network and device sides;
  3. 3GPP and IEEE standards are converging with Hotspot 2.0, ANDSF and other features;
  4. Wi-Fi offload solutions include multiple solutions for radio, SIM-based and non-SIM-based authentication and architectures for integration to core networks;
  5. Next steps include finding new offload business models and controlling Wi-Fi quality;
  6. While the Wi-Fi small-cell savings are relatively clear, operational issues still leave room for real innovation.