“Throughout 2013 we have seen further adoption of Wi-Fi by mobile operators, as carriers look to ease congestion on their networks and provide customers with the best possible experience,” says Steve Hratko, director of service provider/carrier marketing at Ruckus Wireless.
“In fact, according to a Wireless Broadband Alliance survey of its global carrier and vendor members, 22 per cent of new data capacity will come from carrier owned and managed Wi-Fi networks in the coming year. We’ve already seen the likes of O2 invest heavily in hotspots, and many are starting to sign roaming agreements with retailers, MSOs and wireless ISPs.”
This trend is only set to continue, according to Hratko, who here provides his view on what 2014 will bring.
Carriers have the ‘Hots’ for partners
A hot topic in 2014 will be HotSpot 2.0, which looks to radically simplify the user process of securely connecting to a Wi-Fi network and roaming between different Wi-Fi networks. In 2014, we expect large scale Hotspot 2.0 roaming consortiums to become a reality.
They will allow automatic and secure connectivity to Wi-Fi networks with tens of thousands of roaming partners and millions of access points. Most of these partners will consist of public venues that have extensive indoor Wi-Fi deployments.
In addition, cable multiple system operators (MSOs) worldwide will continue to aggressively embrace Wi-Fi technology as a way to fend off over-builders, add to their service package, and grab the best locations. This will also set the stage for roaming relationships with mobile operators in the future, especially with the continued rise of HotSpot 2.0.
Indoor location technologies have received a lot of attention in the mobile world in 2013. By knowing where clients are, companies are able to help them get wherever they need to go, make the network experience better for them, use data from their location to optimise their experience, provide them with offers, and tell them something along the way.
Carriers have a strong interest in offering location services and analytics – not only to better tune their network but to also help monetise them. Smarter Wi-Fi services, which add granular location details of users leveraging basic network information, allow carriers and their customer to deliver much a higher quality experience to end users.
Wi-Fi gets flexible
In 2014, we will see seamless Wi-Fi handoff become a reality with technologies like 802.11r and 802.11k making their way into mobile devices and Wi-Fi access points (APs). No longer will smartphones try to cling to the AP that they associated with, even as the user moves into another coverage area.
This will allow Wi-Fi to emulate the seamless handoff experience that we all enjoy with cellular services. However, the policy solutions that will help smartphones to select between Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity still need work. This is a complex issue and one that will not be resolved for several more years.
Better Wi-Fi coming in waves
802.11ac is all the rage, and rightfully so. It represents another fundamental change in the evolution of the 802.11 protocol that promises to boost speeds into the gigabit world. In 2014, 802.11ac will continue to make inroads, with the really compelling step forward coming with multi-user MIMO in Wave 2.
This will allow access points to talk with as many as 4 single stream smartphones at the same time. However, it will be imperative to have access points that can direct Wi-Fi signals to each client to better separate signals. This enables higher sustained data rates, and increased client capacities can be achieved because users can get on and off the Wi-Fi network faster and with less packet loss and retransmissions.
That’s not all folks
As Wi-Fi technologies continue to mature, the following trends could also emerge:
- Enterprises continue to look to service providers for a managed Wi-Fi service to address issues with network complexity, new services, and a skills shortage in many IT shops. Location based services will become a profitable piece of this enterprise managed services opportunity.
- Work continues on the convergence of Wi-Fi and LTE small cells, but small cells are unlikely to emerge in large numbers before 2015.
- Carrier class Wi-Fi management systems start to catch up to carrier class Wi-Fi network infrastructure.
- No matter how much network capacity is put in place through a combination of cellular and Wi-Fi, it will never be enough. More spectrum and spectrum sharing ideas are required, along with ever greater network densification.