Friday, September 16, 2011

Carrier Wi-Fi

A Case for Carrier Wi-Fi

By Stephen Rayment, BelAir Networks

Everybody loves free Wi-Fi but not everyone acknowledges that the best people to run Wi-Fi networks are the folks that run networks for a living, i.e. mobile carriers and cable operators. In her article, "The Myth of Free Wi-Fi," in BBC News Magazine, Virginia Brown bemoans the lack of free Wi-Fi but stops short of coming up with a sustainable solution. I think that the solution lies in more Carrier Wi-Fi networks. Even those who want to view Wi-Fi as a public utility, akin to electricity, would acknowledge that you want experts running the grid.

Of course, I'm biased. BelAir Networks builds Carrier Wi-Fi gear. We sell our Carrier Wi-Fi gear to Tier One carriers and we help them design and deploy big Carrier Wi-Fi networks. So, yes, I'm biased. But, I would also argue that I do have some unique experience and perspective to offer on the topic.

And like most of you, I'm sure, I am a mobile broadband user. And, as such, here's why I think users should want carriers to run Wi-Fi networks:

First, because experience has proven that only carriers can make large-scale Wi-Fi networks free. The BBC brings up the Swindon example but there were others - does anyone remember Earthlink? Meanwhile, major carriers like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have all deployed large-scale Carrier Wi-Fi networks offering free Wi-Fi services to their subscribers.

Sure, you can argue that you have to be a subscriber to another one of the carrier's services in order to qualify for their free Wi-Fi. But, let's face it, most of us do subscribe to the services of a mobile carrier or cable operator, or both. So, chances are that if your carrier offered free Wi-Fi, you would probably qualify.

Carriers are also in the best position to make your Wi-Fi experience more seamless and secure. The concepts of secure seamless roaming (SSR) and session mobility (SM) are supported by carriers who want to make Wi-Fi as easy to use as cellular. The new industry standards known as Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot are all about SSR and carriers are driving these initiatives.

In a recent report on Wi-Fi Hotspots, In-Stat research listed network capacity as one of the potential inhibitors to Wi-Fi Hotspot growth. They stated that as more people use Wi-Fi hotspots more often and for higher bandwidth activities (like video), this increased demand could create a bottleneck that would need to be addressed through bandwidth management and increased backhaul. Carriers can do that. They do that in their networks every day.

Sure, carriers don't offer free Wi-Fi for nothing (that doesn't sound right but you get what I mean). Carriers deploy Wi-Fi to help offload mobile data traffic in congested cell sites, in order to ensure a better mobile broadband user experience. They offer it as a value-added benefit to their valuable subscribers. And they use it because it contributes to the profitability of their networks. Carriers know how to run sustainable networks - that's their business. Carriers know what kind of equipment to buy to ensure that the network won't break down - otherwise their OpEx would be out of control. Networks that aren't sustainable, where costs outweigh benefits, fail. And you end up with another Swindon.

Let's face it, Wi-Fi was originally developed as a residential and enterprise technology. But now that people are increasingly depending on Wi-Fi when they're out and about it is becoming a critical part of the whole mobile broadband equation. It's no longer a case of just installing a couple of APs and calling it a day. Even businesses that offer free Wi-Fi aren't doing it themselves anymore. In the US, Wi-Fi in Starbucks is run by AT&T. Businesses recognize that Wi-Fi is no longer just an amenity, it is on its way to becoming a network necessity. And because of that, they know it is best to get the network experts involved. The people that build and run networks for a living.

I think it's pretty obvious that carriers have a lot to gain from Wi-Fi but it's also obvious that users have much to gain from Carrier Wi-Fi. It's really one of those (trite expression alert!) win-win situations.

Reprinted from BelAir Networks Blog

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