LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE ASIA EXPO 2013: Operators should look to Wi-Fi as a way to get equipment into “the most desirable venues” to handle data traffic, before at a later date looking to complement this with small cells, Selina Lo, CEO of Ruckus Wireless (pictured), said.

“Operators are racing to take tenancy of premium cell sites by deploying standalone Wi-Fi at those sites as fast as possible,” she said.

With operators looking at a range of technologies to meet growing demand for data, the executive argued that Wi-Fi is a natural complement to small cell deployments, “because it just gives more capacity – something you can never have enough of”.

“Wi-Fi will continue to be the dominant technology for indoor data usage. It is extremely cost-effective, has access to hundreds of MHz of spectrum, is available on all data-centric devices, is an excellent neutral host solution, and it’s frequently mandated by venue owners for both internal operations and guest access”, Lo said.

However, there are a number of challenges which need to be addressed, and “a good user experience is critical”.

“The wireless network itself has to perform consistently and reliably. For public Wi-Fi, this is actually a very difficult thing to pull off due to interference by competing Wi-Fi networks. One of our customers, Towerstream, told us that in high traffic locations like Times Square in New York City, they see at least 300 Wi-Fi networks on any given day,” she said.

Other issues that need to be addressed include the ability for users to sign into Wi-Fi hotspots automatically, and the integration of Wi-Fi and mobile network with the same back-end for operational cost and efficiency.

And “how to scale the provisioning and management of the Wi-Fi network is something that service providers and carriers worry about”, Lo said.

While there has been a lot of focus on small cells, it was noted that “scalable small cell network deployment is still in the very early stages”.

“Of course there is great interest in integrating both Wi-Fi and 3G/4G in the same base station, but today’s technology is really nothing more than a physical integration.  Real issues such as integrated network selection (Wi-Fi or cellular) and handover; integrated smart antennas in small enough packaging that meets public ordinance requirements for most developed urban cities; neutral hosting, and so on, have not been solved and won’t be solved within the next 12 months,” she said.