Is Wi-Fi the Next Big Thing in Wireless Telecommunications?

Bernard Breton
Jun. 5 2012

By Bernard Breton, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, InfoVista

In the world of wireless, we have seen many new ideas quickly become popular and generate a lot of hype but ultimately they lose their appeal when practical considerations enter the mix. WiMAX as a 4G standard competing as a mobile technology falls squarely into this category. Nowadays, Wi-Fi is one of the hottest topics around in the wireless community. There are many reasons why Wi-Fi, as a wireless data delivery technology for the operator, is appealing. Most of the reasons point to one thing: being able to deliver a data payload to wireless consumers using data hungry devices (e.g., tables and laptops in particular) at the lowest possible price point. In the operators' quest to find a balance between revenue growth and data demand growth, Wi-Fi appears to be one of the most promising solutions. There are many valid arguments that suggest that this might turn out to be true; the use of unlicensed spectrum, the simplicity of the architecture, the readiness of the subscriber equipment and a deployment model that is aligned with the demand all suggest a decrease in the bit delivery cost. On the other hand, the need for a very large number of cells and the requirement for proper interoperability with other technologies represent major challenges for operators. In essence, if Wi-Fi is to be successful, it needs to be an integrated piece of the wireless delivery platform of the operator and not a band-aid solution to a network that is crumbling under the data demand.

Wireless operators (and cable operators wishing to expand their fixed broadband market appeal) are now looking hard at how to deploy Wi-Fi and which variant to deploy. Proper engineering of a Wi-Fi solution is as important as with other technologies but the approach must be such that the planning and optimization be more automated. Like any prior wireless technology, Wi-Fi follows the same radio principles and is equally interference limited. However, the large number of cells required and their interaction with the traditional 3G /4G wireless network present new challenges. For example, the Wi-Fi planning process should be determined by economic considerations rather than coverage considerations. The use of software tools and their evolution — like with Mentum Planet 5.5, which supports all variants of Wi-Fi as well as multi-technology data offloading and automated cell planning, is going to be pivotal for wireless operators to ensure that their Wi-Fi networks are optimal both from a customer experience standpoint and from an economical standpoint. For more information on how Mentum Planet can help you plan, design, and optimize your Wi-Fi network, log on to the telecoms.com webinar on“LTE Heterogeneous Networks & Carrier Wi-Fi: What is the opportunity?”.

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