Home Global-ICTGlobal-ICT 2013 Mobile network 2.0

Mobile network 2.0

by david.nunes
Shrikant ShenwaiIssue:Global 2013
Article no.:14
Topic:Mobile network 2.0
Author:Shrikant Shenwai
Organisation:Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA)
PDF size:366KB

About author

Shrikant Shenwai is the CEO and one of the founders of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). Prior to WBA, Mr. Shenwai was the Head of Strategic Business Development at StarHub Ltd.

Article abstract

Wi-Fi has become a necessity for operators around the world to satisfy the massive data demand resulting from the global proliferation of smartphones and tablets. Operators are moving towards the ultimate goal of making Wi-Fi ‘borderless’ and including it in bundled cellular and fixed broadband packages.

Full Article

The global proliferation of smartphones and tablets has fuelled massive data demand, meaning that Wi-Fi has become a necessity for operators around the world to satisfy this demand. China Mobile, for example, saw a 102.5 percent year-on-year increase in Wi-Fi traffic in the first half of 2012 and is planning to deploy two million hotspots nationally in the near future. The technology also drove more than 2.7 billion connections made to the AT&T Wi-Fi network in 2012. As users now expect to always be connected and mobile data experiences see incredible growth, operators are recognizing the vital importance of next generation Wi-Fi in providing additional network capacity and coverage, as well as delivering a seamless user experience. New spectrum is often limited and Wi-Fi is a natural extension of the mobile broadband network, making it ideally positioned to support the surge in data growth.

Next generation hotspot program

To make this a reality, however, certain key issues need to be addressed. Reducing friction, particularly in the user experience, is essential. The greatest challenge to wider adoption and use of public Wi-Fi hotspots is cumbersome network selection and log-in procedures. With this in mind, the next generation hotspot (NGH) program has been developed to break down these barriers and ultimately deliver a seamless, secure, and interoperable Wi-Fi experience. This program recently completed the second phase of an international trial project involving over 50 major industry players including AT&T, Boingo, BSkyB, BT, China Mobile, Cisco, Ericsson, KT Corporation, NTT DOCOMO, Orange and Time Warner Cable.

Next generation hotspots are vastly easier for users to find and use because, like the cellular network, devices can automatically connect securely with no need for entering usernames or passwords. This overcomes the issue of users having to know which hotspots they can access or how to connect. It also allows mobile operators, who increasingly have their own or partner hotspot networks, to offload many more users from their busy mobile broadband networks. These new hotspots feature similar levels of security to the cellular network including end-to-end radio link encryption and SIM authentication.

There is a perception by some in the industry that NGH networks are taking a long time to come to fruition. This is partly due to there being some hesitation from operators to spend capital on purely enhancing domestic connectivity. It will take large operators deploying first to create the impetus for competition in the market. We will then see others start to upgrade their networks and pursue similar deployments. In the past year alone, there has been a tremendous amount of progress.

A large percentage of smartphones are now enabled for seamless authentication and the equipment going in the ground today is all NGH compliant. Although NGH are not currently hugely widespread, it is available and has been deployed in several public locations including in the US and in Thailand. A recent survey by the WBA highlighted the rapid deployment of NGH with 54 percent of respondents planning to launch an NGH-compliant network in 2013. NGH is coming and end users will soon benefit from seamless access to hotspots that, in turn, provide an improved broadband experience.

Interoperability compliance program

These developments will mean that the benefits of cellular technology and Wi-Fi networks will unite for the first time, creating an altogether more simplified consumer experience. However, for NGH to fully come to fruition, it also needs to be made easier for global operators to engage in international Wi-Fi roaming agreements. A recent WBA survey highlighted the major potential of Wi-Fi roaming with 75 percent of operator respondents claiming fewer than 10 percent of their overall user base connects to hotspots while travelling. To address this, several of the world’s largest operators have participated in network assessments for an initiative called the interoperability compliance program (ICP). The aim of this initiative is to streamline the way members of the ecosystem work together on a common set of technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming.

Currently, achieving Wi-Fi roaming agreements between carriers is not as simple as it should be, mainly due to there being no common specification and the process itself not being fully standardized. Establishing clear guidelines for operators will ensure that the process is made a lot easier for all involved. They will then fully understand the Wi-Fi capabilities they have at their fingertips, as well as any additional features they would like to offer the end user.

Operators have been extremely receptive to the ICP. By promoting and advocating a common set of requirements and procedures for Wi-Fi roaming, carriers will better understand how to integrate their networks to support roaming with greater consistency and efficiency. In short, it will encourage them to go that extra mile to expedite interoperability and consumers worldwide will ultimately benefit from a far superior connectivity experience, wherever they are.

The past twelve months have seen the Wi-Fi and cellular user experiences become more closely aligned – the introduction of Wi-Fi roaming is central to this movement as it revolutionizes the customer experience in the new era of NGH-based Wi-Fi roaming. As a result of the ICP, a set of compliance guidelines has been created offering different support levels to operators. These range from simple integration requirements for roaming partners, to delivering support for the latest in session security, to more complex charging models and billing mechanisms required for the implementation of NGH.

Licensed spectrum is a finite and hugely expensive resource, so being able to leverage unlicensed spectrum is very advantageous, particularly now that Wi-Fi is going to be integrated with small cells. In all regions, operators are moving towards the ultimate goal of making Wi-Fi ‘borderless’ and including it in bundled cellular and fixed broadband packages. By bringing together the leading players in Wi-Fi and cellular, all the pieces are in place for simple broadband connectivity that is technology agnostic. Ultimately users don’t care whether they’re connected to Wi-Fi or cellular – they just care about a great broadband experience.

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