The Small Cell Forum and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) have said they will co-operate on a range of initiatives to deepen integration between WiFi and cellular small cells. The integration work could go as far as looking at how voice and messaging services could best be supported over WiFi, and how operators cold implement advanced traffic management capabilities across WiFi and cellular properties.
A press release from the industry associations said:
The co-operation will include measures such as looking at how small cells could impact the WBA and GSMA’s efforts to simplify Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) access, and sharing best practices for optimising the user experience and operator deployment strategies for joint Wi-Fi/small cell hotspots. The WBA’s NGH program is already making public Wi-Fi more accessible by removing the need for usernames and passwords. Major operators globally are currently trialling these new hotspots and deployments are expected imminently.
However, more ambitiously, the organisations will also look at how to integrate Wi-Fi and small cells on a network level, instead of simply using Wi-Fi to provide a pipe into the cellular network. This could allow Wi-Fi hotspots to support cellular services such as voice and SMS, as well as enable enhanced integrated services such as advanced traffic management and smart offloading features over the radio interfaces as well as within the backend networks, resulting in the best possible user experience.
JR Wilson, Chairman of the Wireless Broadband Alliance said: “This agreement builds a bridge between the Wi-Fi and cellular worlds. Our two organisations bring together the key fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi operator and vendor players. Furthermore, we both enjoy close relationships with the respective standards bodies – the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE and 3GPP. This means we have the clout to turn the vision of integrating Wi-Fi hotspots and small cells into a reality. The NGH program will now encompass the advances that emerge from this new cooperation paving the way for a truly converged future. Customers will benefit from a highly dependable, easy to use, seamless service across many different network technologies.”
Gordon Mansfield, the Small Cell Forum’s Chairman said: “The days of Wi-Fi vs cellular are dead. Both technologies are crucial for supporting the never ending growth in data traffic. In the long term, each technology alone cannot meet this challenge - success can only be achieved by aligning the two. Wi-Fi hotspots are proving a valuable tool for managing surging mobile data traffic. Small cells, which now outnumber macrocells globally, represent the future of cellular as it strives to achieve new levels of coverage and capacity for all mobile devices. By bringing the two together, we can deliver a better experience for all users across all devices.”
The two organisations will begin working together immediately and plan to test technical progress at future Small Cell Forum plugfests and at the Wireless Broadband Alliance NGH trials.
Some vendors already offer dual-mode WiFi-cellular small cells, with others offering solutions which bolt together cellular and WiFi radio technology within the same access point. Deeper integration of WiFi APs operating in unlicensed spectrum with cellular small cells that operate in licensed spectrum will need to take account of how the cells interface to the core network elements that control and provide services, as well as to common network management and operational systems.