Wi-Fi has moved a long way from its almost pariah status as far as cellular mobile network operators (MNOs) are concerned. These days MNOs are looking to use Wi-Fi to offload cellular data in high density locations, while cable multiple system operators (MSOs) now view Wi-Fi as strategic to their businesses.
And that suits major Wi-Fi vendor Ruckus Wireless just fine as its targets its key carrier and enterprise markets. David Callisch, VP of Corporate Marketing (pictured above), tells Wireless: ‘One of the big things we are seeing is the seriousness with which the carrier community is going after Wi-Fi as a more strategic asset for their business, and this applies to both cable and mobile operators.
‘Carriers tended to see Wi-Fi as a necessary evil in the past, but they are now taking a different tack and see it as part of the strategic offering. They are really embracing it as part of a service offering that is integral to their business and not just something that is a nice to have for subscribers. Instead, they are seeing it as a primary on-ramp to their services.
‘They are looking at Wi-Fi for voice calling, as well as the integration of Wi-Fi with their cellular network for additional capacity and cellular data offload and backhaul – and they are taking a much more aggressive approach to this,’ observes Callisch.
He points out that the interesting thing about the market is that every carrier class is approaching it with a different perspective. The cable companies utilise Wi-Fi for rich backhaul and the ability to offer an extra service to their subscribers. Mobile network operators such as Sprint and AT&T in the US at first just wanted to provide public access in terms of hotspots, but now they are looking to offer managed voice and data wireless services to their enterprise customers.
‘MNOs also want link aggregation to inject capacity into their networks where capacity is a problem,’ adds Callisch, ‘so, there is a broad interest in terms of applications and class of carriers be they cable, fixed line, mobile or OTT next generation carriers like Google.’
Ruckus sees voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) as a major driver in 2015. VoWiFi is not new, but Wi-Fi calling is, explains Callisch. ‘You need an MNO to offer that in a pervasive way, but the problem is the last part of the connection to the caller. There are issues over the quality of the handover.
‘The way carriers implement that service is different, but that last piece required for a pristine, seamless connection is the same,’ he continues. ‘Once the traffic is on their network and how they manage it does vary, but they still need to have low packet loss, strong connections and the ability to handle changing RF conditions.
‘As a Wi-Fi supplier our background is in handling multimedia traffic in a unique way. Carriers don’t have much experience of delivering quality of service over Wi-Fi, but obviously we have head start in our ability to handle that kind of traffic.’
Ahead of Mobile World Congress, Ruckus unveiled a variety of VoWi-Fi and Wi-Fi calling innovations designed to address essential roaming and Quality of Service (QoS) requirements (see full story here). The innovations enable real-time, bidirectional voice calls, which demand a narrow set of operating parameters from the network designed to ensure the highest quality Wi-Fi calling experience.
The Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi innovations include a variety of new proprietary capabilities such as capacity-based client access control, Wi-Fi multimedia admission controls, directed roaming, and automatic packet flow heuristics. The integration of these and other new Smart Wi-Fi innovations into Ruckus products will help organisations ensure optimal performance of voice over Wi-Fi communications.
Integrating Wi-Fi and cellular into a single small cell unit
Another major indicator that cellular mobile network providers are serious about integrating Wi-Fi has been the work done over the last year by the major Tier 1 infrastructure OEMs to integrate Wi-Fi into their small cell offerings.
At this year’s Mobile World Congress earlier this month, Ruckus announced it was combining its 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Nokia Networks’ Flexi Zone Small cell indoor and outdoor solutions (see story here). The solution engineered to enable service providers looking to offload traffic from the macro network to an underlay network at a street and indoor level, both for individual subscribers and enterprises. Nokia will be supplying the products in the first half of 2015.
‘These should be among the first small cell devices on the market,’ says Callisch, who adds that Ruckus is also working with some other OEMs. ‘We see the integrated Wi-Fi/small cell market as being quite attractive. Carriers are looking at it for a multiplicity of applications: offload, backhaul and so on; there are lots of different frames of reference depending on where each carrier is in the market,’ he notes.
802.11ac Wave 2
Also coming down the line this year will be the next generation of 802.11ac (the latest Wi-Fi standard) products, known as Wave 2. Wave 2 will provide 160MHz channels (if anyone deems that useful) and add a fourth spatial stream, which will enable multi-user MIMO, allowing access points to serve multiple devices at the same time.
‘Our first Wave 2 product will come out in Q1 or Q2 this year,’ says Callisch. ‘It has gone through Alpha testing and has good bandwidth, but we have the problem of client device support in the field. That will require new hardware from the mobile device manufacturers and it will take time for that migration to happen,’ he says.
That said, Callisch claims: ‘Ruckus will be way ahead of the curve in delivering 802.11ac Wave 2 products, because we have a very close relationship with Qualcomm, which is tweaking the chips for us!’
The Wave 2 products will incorporate Ruckus’ directional adaptive antenna system. 802.11ac enables multiple streams, bonding channels together and the ability to control the RF domain so each stream can be delivered properly. ‘As specifications become more complex that plays to our strengths, as we can focus on the channels streams,’ notes Callisch.
He acknowledges that Wave 2 technology will bring 4x4 multi-user MIMO, but as no mobile device supports more than two streams at the moment, the market will have to wait. ‘However, we’ve seen good performance in our alpha testing. We don’t think most of our rivals will have anything before the end of the year.
On the appeal of Wi-Fi to carriers, he says: ‘It’s kind of like DSL was; there is an insatiable demand for bandwidth – subscribers will use everything, so how do the carriers deliver the best wireless connection automatically? The end user just wants a fast, reliable service; they want the carrier to figure it out for them.’
He reports that there are new proposals in IEEE designed to figure out how the network can communicate together between Wi-Fi and cellular to provide the optimum solution for the particular device and the app it wants to use.
When it comes to 802.11ac Wave 2 and multi-user MIMO, as far as Ruckus is concerned, Callisch says: ‘We have to define the minimum amount of bandwidth and capacity per access point (AP) and identify how much bandwidth a client needs at a given time. It might be that every client on this AP needs 2Mb, but beyond that we can’t handle anything further, so we’ll need to find another AP to move the client on to.’
According to Callisch, it is Ruckus’ ability to combine being able to control the client access based on the capacity required, and the provision of a long range signal that minimises packet loss because Ruckus technology can steer the signal around interference, that makes its solution carrier grade. ‘And that distinguishes us from our rivals, as they don’t have this ability,’ he insists.
Riding the wave
‘Cellular is all about coverage and MNOs do that really well,’ he says. ‘Wi-Fi is really about capacity, so when you combine the two we see it as a perfect marriage, and, the advent of 5G notwithstanding, we don’t see this changing any time soon. The consumer wins if the carrier has the forward vision to combine the two.’
In Ruckus’ experience, some MNOs are aggressive in going for a combined cellular and Wi-Fi offering because they see the value, while others, because of their heritage are less keen at the moment.
Cable operators have everything to gain and nothing to lose, Callisch says. ‘MNOs are waiting for carrier-grade Wi-Fi calling, but it cannot be done overnight as they have to serve millions of subscribers.
Ruckus Wireless is well position to ride the growing wave of carrier Wi-Fi. Its 2014 turnover was US$327 million of which 36% was carrier business and the rest enterprise. ‘We expect that to grow immensely over the next year, as we are fortunate enough to be one of the top two suppliers,’ says Callisch.
‘In the carrier world the technology is more complex and there are more devices out there, so that is lucky for us. And the interest is everywhere North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia, so the business opportunity is quite diverse,’ he reports.
‘The Wi-Fi enterprise market has been around for 8-10 years and is now worth about US$5 billion; the carrier side is smaller than that, but we think it will ramp up,’ says Callisch.
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