Integrated networks can allow operators to economically improve capacity and the user experience in residential, enterprise and metropolitan spaces. Challenges identified can be overcome with industry cooperation
Mobile World Congress – 28 February 2012: The Small Cell Forum, the independent industry and operator association that supports small cell deployment worldwide, today published a whitepaper providing a comprehensive overview of the opportunities and challenges facing integrated small cell and Wi-Fi Networks in residential, enterprise and metro deployments. The paper explains that by integrating the two technologies, operators significantly increase their network capacity; extend the list of devices and services they can support; and can offer traffic load management techniques, including intelligent & fine grained offload, which leads to an improved user experience. However, in order to fully realise this vision operators need to overcome several business and technical challenges.
Mobile operators have employed both Wi-Fi and licensed-spectrum small cell technologies increasingly over recent years but mainly in isolation from each other. Wi-Fi’s low cost and ubiquity have made it a valuable tool for managing the surge in mobile data traffic. Small cells have proved important for increasing coverage and capacity and have the added virtue that they support all 3G handsets and cellular services and are fully operator managed. However, the paper argues that by integrating the two technologies, operators receive substantial additional benefits such as lower device cost, simplified installation, shared backhaul, reduced cellular interference and the ability to employ traffic load management techniques.
The paper outlines how traffic load management, incorporating intelligent offload, is replacing traditional offload. This means that data can be seamlessly shifted between the cellular and Wi-Fi networks based on the user, type of service, network congestion or quality of service requirements etc. More advanced implementations allow both small cell cellular and Wi-Fi to be used concurrently for different traffic flows or to create a single large pipe for HD media or to create a highly resilient connection.
While in many cases mobile operators provide additional value by managing traffic on their networks, the paper outlines several situations where offloading traffic from the mobile core, which can be achieved with both small cells and Wi-Fi, also improves the user experience. For example, when residential or enterprise users are trying to access data or services on their local network, operators can offload this traffic immediately rather than routing via the mobile core. In another scenario, the experience of web browsing is improved when offloaded to the Internet immediately rather than going via the operator’s network first.
However, there are several technical and business challenges that need to be overcome in order for the market to meet its potential.
In public metropolitan spaces, deployments can be challenging as small cells and Wi-Fi networks have different network coverage and provisioning systems which may have an impact on OSS and network integration. Some enterprise deployments could require novel solutions as internal IT departments may need to manage operator traffic separately from the corporate traffic and impose additional security requirements. These are surmountable issues especially if the operator tailors its approach to suit the needs of the enterprise.
In residential deployments, potential issues surround the fact that most users either buy their own Wi-Fi router or are provided with one by their ISP. It may therefore frequently be necessary for mobile operators to cooperate with ISPs to ensure the equipment is set up properly and the services operate effectively.
“The use of small cells and Wi-Fi in today’s mobile networks constitutes one of the most significant developments in mobile in recent years. The long term growth in mobile coverage and capacity is fundamentally reliant on both technologies. However, by employing them separately operators are missing out on significant advantages. By integrating small cells and Wi-Fi, operators can not only lower their costs and simplify installation, they can usher in an era of ‘intelligent capacity’ where mobile traffic will be directed along the smartest possible route in order to deliver the best possible user experience. However, in order to realise this vision, the industry is going to need to cooperate on overcoming several challenges. Addressing these this will be a key area of focus for the Small Cell Forum,” said Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Small Cell Forum.
The whitepaper concludes by recommending further investigation into joint provisioning, tailored small cell/Wi-Fi policy solutions and edge-based small cell/Wi-Fi integration techniques. It is envisaged that this work may result in specific requirements for integrated products and services and cooperation with other industry bodies.
The full whitepaper is available for free download on the Small Cell Forum’s website herehttp://bit.ly/SCF_WP
About The Small Cell Forum
The Small Cell Forum (www.smallcellforum.org), formerly known as the Femto Forum, supports the wide-scale adoption of small cells. Small cells are low-power wireless access points that operate in licensed spectrum, are operator-managed and feature edge-based intelligence. They provide improved cellular coverage, capacity and applications for homes and enterprises as well as metropolitan and rural public spaces. They include technologies variously described as femtocells, picocells, microcells and metrocells. The Forum has 137 members including 63 operators representing more than 1.71 billion mobile subscribers – 33% of the global total – as well as telecoms hardware and software vendors, content providers and innovative start-ups.
Oliver [a t] smallcellforum.org
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