With carriers increasingly using unlicensed spectrum, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Small Cell Forum have decided to work together to integrate Wi-Fi and small cells to improve the user experience, increase network capacity and employ advanced traffic management techniques, according to a joint announcement made at the Wi-Fi Global Congress in San Francisco.
“The days of Wi-Fi versus cellular are dead,” Gordon Mansfield, the Small Cell Forum’s chairman said in a press release. “Both technologies are crucial for supporting the never ending growth in data traffic. In the long term, each technology alone cannot meet this challenge – success can only be achieved by aligning the two.”
The two organizations will look at how small cells will impact efforts to simplify Next Generation Hotspot access, and optimizing the user experience and operator deployment strategies for Wi-Fi/small cell hotspots.
J.R. Wilson, chairman of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, said in a press release, “The Next Generation Hotspot program will now encompass the advances that emerge from this new cooperation paving the way for a truly converged future. Customers will benefit from a highly dependable, easy to use, seamless service across many different network technologies.”
Integrating Wi-Fi and small cells on a network level will also be investigated, which would allow Wi-Fi to support cellular services such as voice and SMS, as well as enable enhanced integrated services such as advanced traffic management and smart offloading features.
The idea of integrating Wi-Fi and cellular has been on many people’s minds recently. Jeff Reale, regional solutions manager, Mid-Atlantic, Intenna Systems, points out that in October, Ericsson launched what it called a “stadium-optimized Wi-Fi access point” that includes a cellular standard interface Wi-Fi controller, designed to simplify Wi-Fi integration with mobile networks. It is the first product launch for Ericsson since its acquisition of BelAir Networks and is designed to be part of the heterogeneous network.
Many players in the DAS are interested how small cells and Wi-Fi integration with licensed technology platforms evolve in the future, because of the potential for common signaling protocols to alleviate the current capacity crunch in densely populated venues, according to Reale.
“I have not seen any successful cross platform integration occur between macrocellular core network elements and Wi-Fi, so perhaps the OEM’s on the small cell side of the house see more value and better timing to achieve this type of integration over the next couple of years,” Reale told DAS Bulletin. “Wi-Fi integration/interoperability may also be a way for small cell technology to achieve faster adoption in the market place.”
Developing common signaling protocols is not the same as physically converging the two networks and broadcasting Wi-Fi signals over a conventional hybrid fiber coax DAS architecture, of which Reale remains skeptical.
“The adoption of 802.11n blew the economics of [broadcasting Wi-Fi signals over DAS nodes] out of the water and also made it impossible for any type of signal injection method to maintain all of the advanced features and capabilities than 802.11n has to offer,” Reale said.