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Wi-Fi Offload: Benefits Trump Costs for Mobile Operators
While LTE networks and technologies continue to mature, it is both obvious and tempting for mobile network operators (MNOs) to leverage the ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi to the benefit of well, themselves and eventually to meet mass-market demand. The current belief among network vendors and MNOs is that Wi-Fi is needed and will become an integral part of the MNO technology landscape. This attitude represents a sea change, because until recently Wi-Fi was frowned upon as the inept little brother of "real" mobile network technology, such as 3G and LTE.

There are numerous compelling reasons to adopt Wi-Fi into the mainstream of mobile broadband through integration into MNO service platforms and infrastructure. Wi-Fi is everywhere in devices, homes, offices, airports, hotels, at McDonald's, etc. Wi-Fi is cheap chipsets cost just a few dollars, and home access points (APs) sell for not much more. Wi-Fi works remarkably well, considering how simple and cheap it is. Wi-Fi bands are unlicensed and require no investment from MNOs or service providers compare this to the millions of dollars often required to purchase licensed bands. In short: Wi-Fi continues to be spectacularly successful as a wireless technology both commercially and technically. No wonder everyone wants a piece of it.

There is no doubt that Wi-Fi technology is an attractive option for MNOs when building high-capacity wireless networks. The TCO of building Wi-Fi networks is allegedly around a tenth of that of 3G/4G network equivalents, so the business case looks strong provided that technical issues and commercial hurdles are resolved. The Wi-Fi and mobile industries are on convergent paths although it is likely to take a few years before the two technologies will be operating with end-to-end seamlessness.

While the Wi-Fi offload vendor landscape is still dominated by major vendors of either Wi-Fi or 3G/4G networks or both, several practical challenges still await efficient resolution. These include a range of Wi-Fi small-cell deployment, backhaul and management tasks, as many MNOs may eventually need to install tens of thousands of Wi-Fi APs. Other key challenges include the interfacing of Wi-Fi radio access systems towards 3GPP-based cores, as well as comprehensive Wi-Fi service support within the cores. Both are specialized jobs requiring insight into the interworking of disparate technologies and their many protocol layers.

So while the Wi-Fi small-cell savings are relatively clear, operational issues still leave room for real innovation. Here smaller vendors and newcomers will be well advised to have a close look at the opportunities for new, more cost-efficient operational solutions, specialized deployment services and perhaps multi-technology testing services.

Wi-Fi Offload: Benefits Trump Costs for Mobile Operators defines seamless Wi-Fi offload, exploring its drivers and threats. It compares Wi-Fi to 4G/LTE and discusses how standards groups currently support Wi-Fi offload. Finally, the report profiles 11 leading vendors in this burgeoning market.

Sample research data from the report is shown in the excerpts below:
Table of Contents (4gltei1212_toc.pdf)
The term "seamless Wi-Fi offload" is a buzzword in the industry. But "seamlessness" can mean many things. The industry seems to agree that seamlessness comes in at least two parts sometimes more (it may also be argued that "offload" indeed could be replaced by "onload" depending on your point of view). Today the most important use case is the offloading of data traffic from 3G/4G/Wi-Fi-capable and SIM-enabled smartphones to Wi-Fi networks. The following figure shows the conceptual forms of "seamlessness" of LTE/Wi-Fi offload evolving across three phases. Phase 2 functionality is expected to become available within a year or two, while Phase 3 is possibly three to four years into the future as it is more device-dependent.
[click on the image above for the full excerpt]
Companies analyzed in this report include: Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU); Aptilo Networks AB; Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN); Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO); Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC); Green Packet Bhd.; Kineto Wireless Inc.; Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE); Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM); Ruckus Wireless Inc.; and Stoke Inc.
Total pages: 25
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