We live in a data-centric, wireless world, and no technology is better suited to address this reality than Wi-Fi.
It is a technology that users look for in any business or public venue that they enter. Wi-Fi in many ways has become a utility. For some it’s like running water and electricity; you just expect it to be there.
In this way, Service Providers are looking now more than ever to incorporate Wi-Fi into their offerings. In 2014, Cable Operators (MSOs) in particular have been aggressive in 2014 in doing this, in order to reduce customer churn and improve revenues. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have also been aggressive in this space as they look to use Wi-Fi to offload cellular data in high density locations.
Yet the technology is hard to keep up with. It’s evolving at breakneck speeds, with 802.11ac Wave 2 due in 2015 along with the growth of Hotspot 2.0; we are looking forward to a year of evolution and integration.
The world dials in to Wi-Fi Calling
Wi-Fi Calling will start to become important in 2015 thanks to support from Apple. This technology (3GPP IR-92) will drive even greater amounts of smartphone traffic onto Wi-Fi networks, and will fundamentally alter the MNO business model as they integrate the technology into their offerings. This shift will have dramatic consequences for the femtocell market, as femtos will become almost redundant in the home and in the workplace as more voice calls are conducted over Wi-Fi.
Service Providers ‘Get Serious’ about Wi-Fi
Cable MSOs will accelerate their broad-based Wi-Fi rollouts as a way to keep their subscribers happy and make them much less likely to churn. Cable MSOs in all parts of the world now view Wi-Fi as strategic to their businesses.
2015 will also be the year in which we see large scale Hotspot 2.0 roaming consortiums begin to form, primarily around large Cable MSOs. These consortiums will knit together the islands of connectivity that constantly surround us into one seamless and secure network experience.
Home-spots will become a standard offering from fixed line providers worldwide. This approach will dramatically increase Wi-Fi footprint and thus increase the utility of these offerings. Country wide Wi-Fi roaming will be introduced as a genuine possibility.
LTE Small Cells slowdown, while LTE-U picks up pace
The LTE Small Cell market will continue to develop very slowly as the industry struggles with business model issues around who pays for indoor deployments. Most of the excitement around LTE small cells has focused on the indoor market as that is where the people are, but the economics point toward venues having to pay for these deployments. That seems unlikely without a neutral host LTE small cell.
LTE in the unlicensed bands (aka LTE-U) generated lots of discussion in 2014. The technology will be a success IF 3GPP implements Listen-Before-Talk so as to be a good neighbour for Wi-Fi. 2015 will see significant progress in this direction.
The ‘Second Wave’ of 802.11ac
The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard will evolve in 2015. It introduces multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output (MU-MIMO), which allows a Wi-Fi access point to talk to more than one user at a time. This will improve data speed and capacity issues on large scale networks.
WLANs made easy with NFV
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) will continue to sweep through the WLAN industry. This trend started in the spring and it continues to pick up steam. It requires a significant operational change for Service Providers, but the economics of virtualization are very compelling.
Roger Hockaday is the director of marketing for EMEA at Ruckus Wireless.