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WiFi key to LTE landgrab

28 января 2010

Mobile operators are turning to WiFi as data usage cripples their networks, equipment maker claims.

The strain increasing data usage is placing on mobile operators' networks is beginning to show, leading more to contemplate handing traffic off to WiFi networks. In Europe, O2 is already moving some data traffic generated by its iPhone users onto an own-brand network of WiFi hotspots it has access to via its partnership with The Cloud, for example.

But according to BelAir Networks, adding WiFi into their armoury has another benefit for mobile providers: it will give them a valuable advantage when it comes to LTE rollout.

Simply replacing 3G sites with LTE will "improve the capacity by a factor of two," BelAir Networks co-founder and chief technology officer Stephen Rayment told Total Telecom on Wednesday.

"[Instead] you've got to shrink the cells down," in order to gain capacity increases of the order of magnitude required going forward, he said.

While many in the industry are predicting the need for 10 to 100 times the current network capacity in the next few years, Rayment believes this is an understatement. "I think it's 100-1,000 [times]," he said.

Rolling out WiFi to supplement existing 3G networks requires service providers to work on smaller cell sites. It gives them experience in obtaining the property rights they will need for this type of site, in power supply issues, mounting and so on, Rayment explained. Rolling out WiFi now will "give them a leg up" for LTE, he said.

In a few years' time operators will find themselves deploying LTE in the same locations they are deploying WiFi now, he added.

BelAir Networks provides carrier-grade WiFi network equipment designed specifically for service provider WiFi. The company says it has seen a change in attitude to WiFi from mobile operators in recent months; where once mobile operators shied away from offloading traffic onto WiFi networks, preferring instead to keep tight control of their customers, they are now keen to look at all ways of dealing with traffic growth, including WiFi, "to help retain subscribers," Rayment said.

Bad publicity, like the recent media coverage of AT&T and O2's network capacity problems in the U.S. and U.K. respectively, is potentially hugely damaging to a mobile operator's brand.

"They value their brand a lot, and right now their brand is taking a beating," Rayment said.

Where previously they feared allowing customers to leave their network for a WiFi network would be damaging to that brand, now they see that doing it themselves - with own-brand WiFi networks and control of the user experience – is the answer, Rayment believes.

"I used to get laughed out of the room," when talking to operators about WiFi, Rayment admitted. That has changed in the past year.

"Service provider WiFi is one of the most important things they are going to do," he said.

Источник: Total Telecom

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