10 Top Reasons for Integrating Wi-Fi Radios in Small Cellular Cells
With the growing demand for mobile data, cellular service operators are increasingly turning to small cells -- picocells, microcells, metrocells and femtocells -- to deal with the capacity crunch in dense urban areas and to add coverage in areas with low or zero cellular signal levels, such as indoors and in remote rural locations.
Tue, May 15, 2012
Network World — With the growing demand for mobile data, cellular service operators are increasingly turning to small cells -- picocells, microcells, metrocells and femtocells -- to deal with the capacity crunch in dense urban areas and to add coverage in areas with low or zero cellular signal levels, such as indoors and in remote rural locations.
But the capacity of small cells, which use licensed spectrum, is dependent on the availability of that limited spectrum, can be degraded by interference between small cells, and requires significant planning. To cope, some service providers are looking to use Wi-Fi to augment their investment in small cells.
A number of vendors, including BelAir Networks (acquired by Ericsson), Ruckus Wireless and IP.Access, have announced Wi-Fi integrated LTE and HSPA picocells. At Mobile World Congress 2012, a number of announcements concerned Wi-Fi integrated small cell technology. Alcatel-Lucent, for example, announced a secure Wi-Fi gateway for small cells and an integrated Wi-Fi option for its existing femtocell and picocell products. Cisco also rolled out a small cell gateway to help operators integrate Wi-Fi into small cells, while Airspan Networks announced the integration of carrier Wi-Fi to its LTE small cell solution.
Integrating the Wi-Fi radio in a small cell will open a host of opportunities and benefits to cellular carriers, including:
* Cost-effective additional capacity: Integrating Wi-Fi radios into small cells provides cost-effective capacity and additional coverage for small cells, particularly for those cells that are targeted for public usage, like picocells, over and above their available cellular capacity. This additional boost will further help small cells deliver seamless data services in dense urban sites reeling under the capacity crunch, and will also enable a small cell site to gracefully handle peak capacity hours.
* Service extension to non-cellular devices: Since Wi-Fi support has become ubiquitous on everything from laptops to tablets and cameras, integrating Wi-Fi into small cells will allow carriers to extend data services to non-cellular devices, adding an additional source of revenue.
* Smart and intelligent data offload schemes: With Wi-Fi integration, smart data offload schemes will enable service providers to selectively allow voice and other carrier-managed value added services to be served through the carrier's core network (via cellular connection), while offloading Internet traffic to Wi-Fi. These offload schemes can provide mobile users the best of both worlds, cellular connectivity for voice and value added carrier services, and Wi-Fi connectivity for cost-effective data services. This would also enable carriers to launch cost-effective plans. [Also see: "Wi-Fi's promise for cell carriers running out of options"]