September 24, 2012

Alliance Puts Carrier-Class Wi-Fi to the Test

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility.

The move to make the Wi-Fi experience more carrier class continues with a move by The Wi-Fi Alliance (News - Alert) to enable certified devices to discover and connect seamlessly with certified access points.

As of late June, the alliance was testing mobile devices and infrastructure as part of the effort, which falls under the umbrella of the group’s Passpoint program. The first products to be certified, and which are undergoing testing this summer, include the BelAir 20E; Broadcom Dualband 11n WiFi and Dual Band 802.11n Access Point; Cisco CT2500 Series WLAN Controller and LAP1260 Series Access Point; Intel (News - Alert) Centrino Advanced-N 6230; Marvell Plug – 88W8787 802.11 a/b/g/n Reference Design; MediaTek Hotspot 2.0 Client V1; Qualcomm Atheros Dual-Band XSPAN 3-Stream 802.11n Access Point and Dual-Band XSPAN 2-stream 802.11n WLAN Adapter; and Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 7363 and ZoneDirector 1100.

The goal is to offload mobile traffic from cellular networks as efficiently as possible by making it simpler for mobile users to connect to Passpoint-certified hotspots, which by the way offer what the alliance says is enterprise-grade WPA2 security.

"Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint certification is an important step toward expanding the role of Wi-Fi in operator networks," said Vish Nandlall, CTO and head of marketing and strategy for Ericsson North American operations. “We understand what it takes to make Wi-Fi work for carriers, and we support the efforts of the Wi-Fi Alliance to help the industry move in that direction."

As discussed in the May issue of NGM, there’s been a move afoot in the industry for the past year or so to make Wi-Fi carrier quality. The aim is to enable cellular service providers to integrate 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi at the base station and have common control, security, management and optimization capabilities for all of the above.

In this scenario, Wi-Fi is just another connectivity mode in the heterogeneous network – or hetnet. And every vendor in the wireless access space, from the big guns like Alcatel Lucent (News - Alert) and Ericsson to smaller outfits, is talking about carrier-class Wi-Fi and the rise of the hetnet.

Fresh off of announcing plans to buy BelAir Networks, Ericsson at Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) in February unveiled a new pico base station. Both the new product and the acquisition are Ericsson efforts to align cellular and Wi-Fi more closely, Mikael Back, Ericsson AB vice president, told NGM in Barcelona.

"Ericsson will lead the way in the growing converged Wi-Fi and cellular market where improved end user experience is the driving force. By integrating BelAir Networks' market-leading products and competence into Ericsson's existing radio portfolio, we will be able to do this more quickly. We welcome 120 highly skilled people into the company," said Hans Vestberg (News - Alert), CEO at Ericsson, announcing the BelAir deal.

In addition to individual vendors and The Wi-Fi Alliance, other industry bodies are working the issue as well. For example, the GSMA and the Wireless Broadband Alliance have joined forces to simplify connectivity to Wi-Fi hotspots from mobile devices. To do that, the organizations plan to develop technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming.

“The combination of Wi-Fi and mobile technologies extends the power of broadband for consumers,” said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO for the WBA. “The work by the WBA and the GSMA will expedite the availability of a new generation of Internet access for the benefit of consumers everywhere. Key to this is Wi-Fi being able to replicate the success of mobile technology and allow users to roam seamlessly between different networks.”

Edited by Braden Becker

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