Mobile operators are looking to offload more of their increasing data traffic to WiFi because it can significantly lower capex. However, continually offloading to WiFi is not the answer to addressing their other major problem — flat ARPU, argued Steven Chung (pictured), Ruckus Wireless’ principal consultant for carrier WiFi in Asia Pacific, in an interview with Mobile World Live at CommunicAsia last week.
About 80 per cent of data traffic is now WiFi traffic, but both LTE and WiFi usage are expanding rapidly.
While it is difficult to predict how much data can be offloaded, Chung said he is certain the future of carrier WiFi and the ability to generate new revenue will not come from solving spikes in traffic, noting that the key drivers for an offload strategy should be service continuity and customer retention.
As the industry has already seen with so-called OTT messaging apps eroding the volume and value of SMS services, the same shift is now impacting voice services. Carriers are countering with their own WiFi calling services (e.g. T-Mobile, Sprint and EE) to provide the same services over both cellular and WiFi access networks.
“User experience and providing carrier-grade WiFi matter, especially for services such as voice. Offloading to a consumer CPE, without QoS built inside the access point, will inevitably lead to a loss of customers when using WiFi calling or VoWiFi is introduced,” he said.
Phase 2 deployments
As WiFi access becomes more ubiquitous, Ruckus is seeing city councils around the world add intelligence to existing WiFi networks and using the analytics to improve urban planning, Chung said.
“WFi connectivity is the DNA for building a smart city as it allows many different sensors to connect, collect and be analysed for the objective of building a sustainable city.”
For example, some city councils in Australia have asked Ruckus to convert WiFi networks into analytics sensors that are active 24/7.
Previously, he said the cities had to hire a contractor to estimate the number of people using council resources such as parks and community centres, which was tedious and expensive and only provided limited data.
He said Singapore’s government, in partnership with Singtel and Ruckus, has been able to obtain analytics of how long passengers wait for trains for insight into commuting patterns. The data is used to provide more efficient transportation services.
While smart cities has always been a concept for a single city, he said Ruckus’ vision is to build a “smarter global village” by enabling citywide roaming services globally based on Hotspot 2.0 as the first step and adding new intelligence to share data between the smart cities of the future.
Looking ahead to improving the user experience by having seamless switching, he said, LTE/WLAN link aggregation (LWA) is a promising technology to enhance the LTE data experience using WiFi and unlicensed spectrum.
Ruckus is actively engaged with the 3GPP programme to standardise LWA, which is currently in the study item phase for Release 13.
He said LWA will require tight integration of the WiFi access point with the LTE base station (eNode-B), as well as some modifications to the WiFi airlink to tunnel LTE datagrams within the 802.11 frames.
“We are working closely with a number of technology partners on these required modifications. One of the principal advantages of LWA over other proposals like LTE-U and LAA-LTE is that coexistence with WiFi is achieved via a common physical and media access layer, which is much more straightforward than the coexistence mechanisms that will be needed to ensure that LTE-U/LAA coexist nicely with WiFi,” he said.