Small Cells Featured Article
Now Trending: Wi-Fi Small Cell Wireless will Be Key to Successful Mobile Deployments
December 10, 2012
By Tony Rizzo, TMCnet Senior Editor
Cisco (News - Alert), an important vendor in the rapidly growing small cell market segment, has recently uncovered a number of trends (or at least has quantified a number of trends that we already intuitively know about) that strongly suggest there will be significant uptake in the small cell market over the next several years and beyond. What are these trends?
Let’s start with the graphic shown immediately below (all graphics and statistics noted in this article are courtesy of Cisco). Each of the non-trivial issues highlighted can in fact be proof enough of a need to consider small cell implementations. But what Cisco is showing here is that it isn’t merely one or more of these issues that are rapidly converging, but, in fact, it’s all five coming together in a perfect storm to create potentially massive headaches for businesses and both state and local government agencies that are now beginning to move fully towards implementing mobile-first (and in many cases mobile-only) networks.
What can we take away from the above? Here are a few thoughts:
That Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous is a key issue. As the next graphic clearly shows, Wi-Fi will very soon surpass wired traffic. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index(Cisco VNI), by 2016, 51 percent of IP traffic will be delivered over Wi-Fi networks, with only about 10 percent of mobile data delivered over cellular networks.
In fact, Wi-Fi is creating a large market opportunity for operators, and such an opportunity of course attracts increasing competition. As a result, as providers attempt to secure locations and launch services, the race to capture this opportunity will go to those who can get there first with the most robust offerings. Operators are looking at both licensed and unlicensed Wi-Fi technologies to meet this demand.
One option is increasingly of interest: Wi-Fi small cells. Robust carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks have the ability to outperform 4G networks and are secure, and now next-generation hotspots offer roaming that is as transparent as cellular roaming. To meet the spectrum challenge, Wi-Fi provides 680 MHz of new spectrum to operators.
Of particular interest to the wireless carriers and mobile service providers is the fact that small cells offer new monetization opportunities. Small cell technology does this by taking advantage of the intelligence inherent in the network, including policy, hyper-location, context, application, and device information. Businesses can use this information to engage with their customers – and potential customers -- in new ways that include, for example, augmented experiences, location-based content, and personalized loyalty programs.
Carrier Grade Wi-Fi Small Cells – a Big Challenge
What’s needed to deliver a carrier-grade small cell, Wi-Fi-based solution for mass-market deployments? Operators, of course, are not going to simply set up a few Wi-Fi access points! Any small cell solution must deliver on cost-effective small cell coverage and capacity that is able to meet the scale and quality required by mobile data users today. The technology architecture must be transparent, secure, scalable, and manageable. This includes simplified subscriber and session management with standardized mobile packet core integration. Location-based context-aware information is also needed in order to allow service providers to better engage with their customers.
A number of vendors play in this space, and each offers variations in terms of solutions. The following graphic specifically provides an overview of how Cisco delivers on carrier-grade small cell Wi-Fi.
Cisco’s SP Wi-Fi solution includes the following:
The “intelligent” access points we noted above need to be able to fully support both indoor and outdoor operations. We won’t tackle outdoor equipment here, but the graphic below shows the breadth of indoor access points (at least as far as Cisco’s products are concerned – other vendors offer numerous variations and price points on the kinds of products shown below).
Cisco’s range of intelligent Wi-Fi access points includes a number of key features that are unique to Cisco. And of course Cisco also believes that these are critical to delivering carrier-grade deployments, though these are all issues that can be solved through other vendors’ products.
• Cisco ClientLink: A radio resource management technology that employs beamforming to improve throughput, network coverage, and overall system performance. Cisco ClientLink solves problems related to mixed-client networks by making sure that all clients, from new tablets and smartphones to earlier devices, operate at the best possible throughput.
• Cisco CleanAir: Technology that tackles the number-one issue operators face with Wi-Fi – that of interference. Unlicensed spectrum only becomes a carrier-grade asset when it can be managed, and Cisco CleanAir automatically mitigates the impact of wireless interference, optimizes network performance, and reduces troubleshooting costs.
• Cisco BandSelect: Software that further optimizes RF utilization and supports higher user densities by moving 5-GHz-capable clients like the Apple iPhone (News - Alert) 5 out of congested 2.4-GHz channels into higher-capacity 5-GHz band.
• Cisco VideoStream enhances the delivery of video over Wi-Fi for higher quality end-user experiences. Most importantly, VideoStream brings both bandwidth efficiency and security to real-time video services, services that are in high demand from all enterprise customers that use interactive multimedia collaboration and communications solutions.
• Next Generation Hotspot: One of the biggest drawbacks to Wi-Fi adoption has been the lack of a transparent connection when moving from one access point to another. In most cases users are asked to re-authenticate as they move across wireless networks, and even worse this often includes having to reenter billing or subscriber information. Cisco is participating in the development of a set of new standards, called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint, which will provide users with a transparent mobile experience when using Wi-Fi. A Next Generation Hotspot network built on Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint products will be critical for true frictionless roaming.
Next Generation Hotspots are only the start to delivering secure and transparent Wi-Fi experiences. Cisco takes this a step further through its Connected Mobile Experience, which the company delivers through its Intelligent Services Cloud (ISC). Delivering secure mobility through Wi-Fi requires a holistic approach, with comprehensive and automated security and management functionality running from the data center, through the mobile core, to the network edge and point of access. In essence, this pulls together a fairly complete picture of what any carrier grade small cell Wi-Fi network needs to deliver.
The graphic below shows ISC’s key components and how they interact. We won’t provide details, but clearly there is a great deal of underlying complexity needed to ensure end user simplicity.
Small Cell Wi-Fi Enables New Mobile Business Trends
The ability to deliver next generation transparent Wi-Fi mobility as the user moves from one access point to another opens the door to a wide range of new types of services and experiences, and, of course, to significant new monetization capabilities.
Consider, for example, the possibilities provided by a mobile concierge service. As a customer enters a large retail location or a public space such as a museum, an application can be automatically downloaded to the customer's Wi-Fi-enabled device. Then, personalized maps, information, offerings, and other services can be pushed to the device as the customer approaches or enters each indoor space.
In truth, that doesn’t sound much different than what might already be available in more progressive enterprises through the use of cellular-based wireless. But keep in mind that we are referring here specifically to the ability to make these types of services happen through Wi-Fi.
Because this is done over Wi-Fi, the service will work well indoors, and it can include comprehensive and very low cost video and voice capabilities. With the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint standard, no re-authentication is needed, so value-added services are transparently integrated as customers move through the mall or other indoor space.
To this standard Cisco SP Wi-Fi in particular also adds network service discovery capability to present the Wi-Fi network and local services to users on their mobile devices. The Cisco SP Wi-Fi solution also includes business intelligence through context and location analytics provided by the Mobility Services Engine. The data gathered from the Wi-Fi network can be used to provide invaluable information to retailers and venue owners-information they pay to obtain today through static sensors.
Finally, reports about how people flow through venues, where they come from, where they go to, how long they stay, and at what times of day-all of this will help businesses make informed decisions about staffing or product and ad placement, streamlining operations and turning missed opportunities into connected mobile experiences.
As we noted in our headline, these aren’t tomorrow’s capabilities. Small cells, and in the case of this article, Wi-Fi small cells, are already trending. Wireless operators and progressive businesses are already on board.
Some of these progressive businesses are probably your direct competitors. Our strong advice to the business community at large is to get on board and add to the mobile Wi-Fi small cell “trending” that is already taking place.
If you aren’t trending you are lagging – in today’s mobile-driven business world that is a losing proposition!
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Edited by Rich Steeves
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