Carrier Wifi : panacea for the African broadband crisis ???

PresentationwifiCarrier Wifi : is it the solution to African broadband crisis ???

Despite the arrival for so much submarine cable bandwidth it seems the hapless African broadband consumer will not experience true high speed broadband for atleast a decade. So what is the current situation with the Operators in South Africa ? Congested networks , refarmed 1800 spectrum for LTE which is ruining the HSP + experience , smartphone flood , insufficient Spectrum , disgruntled customers , declining rather than value based pricing etc etc. Not to mention the fact that some Operators become professional spectrum squatters without the financial means to build a national broadband network. As for the rest of Africa : the same lamentable situation.

The Regulators are stubborn since they refuse or delay the allocation of Spectrum in the 2.6 and 800 mhz for LTE. The Operators are asinine since refuse or delay in look at non licensed Spectrum to rollout a RAN. Infact the Regulators and Operators spend more time in criticising rather than collaborating with each other. The Digital Dividend is a pipe dream for the majority of the African population. Most Africans don’t have access to electricity or clean water what in the world are they going to do with Broadband ?? Nobody gives a hoot !

The profitability of mobile Internet services is at risk, unless mobile operators and Regulators look to new, complementary technologies that can serve data traffic with a dramatically lower cost curve than the traditional, cellular-only RAN and backhaul solution. It takes many years and billions of dollars for mobile operators to acquire and build out new licensed spectrum. Operators cannot simply double their use of spectrum and double the number of cell sites in their network each year.If no changes are made demand could exceed capacity within two to three years and with today’s architectures operators could rapidly run out of spectrum and money. Operators need to harness a solution that will further dramatically bring down their backhaul and RAN costs, while allowing them visibility and control of the new RAN, maintaining the same ease of use for their subscribers.

The Wi-Fi offloading has became lately the most hotly debated business opportunity that provides solutions for MNOs for a lot of challenges like spectrum licensing, running costs, coverage gaps ,deployment delays, and congestion. In addition, Wi-Fi can give new business opportunities to MNOs to access new types of users like laptop, tablet, and home users.Offloading to Wi-Fi is the fastest way to achieve this dramatic reduction in backhaul costs (compared to fixed broadband) and RAN costs, without the need to purchase additional spectrum. Wi-Fi offers an immediate solution to operators worldwide looking to increase capacity and coverage. Its availability is widespread and growing, with over one million commercial hotspots today. Unlike cellular radio technologies, Wi-Fi uses the same frequency bands worldwide and users have had few problems sharing this unlicensed spectrum.

Over the years Wifi has undergone a resurrection of sorts with new standards that integrate it more tightly into the Mobile Core. The revolution of smartphone industry, which rose after the Apple iPhone®, had a vast spread of Wi-Fi technology along with smartphones. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a collaboration between groups of telecommunications associations aims to make a globally applicable third-generation (3G) mobile phone system specification, became aware of the increasing role of Wi-Fi and started putting standards for Wi-Fi and Mobile Networks interoperability. Some mobile operators, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), and vendors saw the potential in Wi-Fi as generic and low cost wireless technology to provide their data and Internet services to millions of users through their already equipped Wi-Fi in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PDAs.

And oh yes : Wifi is now CARRIER GRADE !!!

• The Wi-Fi Alliance Passpoint certification program and the Hotspot 2.0 specifications provide seamless Wi-Fi access in public hotspots and when roaming. With SIM-based authentication, mobile devices can automatically connect to any hotspot operated by a mobile operator or any of its partners, as they do with cellular data roaming.

• The Wireless Broadband NGH initiative provides a roaming framework that facilitates roaming agreements among mobile and Wi-Fi operators, and establishes roaming best practices for Wi-Fi.

• ANDSF facilitates discovery and selection of non-3GPP networks in mobile devices. With ANDSF, operators can use PCRF-defined policies and real-time traffic management across mobile and Wi-Fi networks.

• 802.11n : 802.11n is an amendment which improves upon the previous 802.11 standards by adding multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO). 802.11n operates on both the 2.4 GHz and the lesser used 5 GHz bands. It operates at a maximum net data rate from 54 Mbits/s to 600 Mbits/s.

A new IEEE standard is in the wings ready to make its debut on the wireless market stage: 802.11ac. In essence, 802.11ac is a supercharged version of 802.11n (the current WiFi standard that your smartphone and laptop probably use), offering link speeds ranging from 433 megabits-per-second (Mbps), all the way through to multiple gigabits per second. To achieve speeds that are dozens of times faster than 802.11n, 802.11ac works exclusively in the 5GHz band, uses a huge wad of bandwidth (80 or 160MHz), operates in up to eight spatial streams (MIMO), and a utilizes very fancy technology called beamforming.

Hotspot 2.0 was created by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2012, a technology intended to render Wi-Fi technology similar to cellular technology with a suite of protocols to allow easy selection and secure authentication. It allows the mobile devices automatically select the Wi-Fi network based on its SSID. It also allows reacting some useful information such as Network and venue type, list of roaming partners, and types of authentication available.

The 3GPP provided further enhancement with release 10; a completely seamless Wi-Fi offloading, where the mobile device can have multiple connections to each technology managed by the 3GPP core network. Some heavy traffic like video streaming and P2P downloads can be routed via Wi-Fi and the HTTP and VoIP traffic through the cellular Network.

Wi-Fi is expanding its role in carrying wireless broadband traffic in both private and public networks. As it becomes more deeply integrated into the mobile network infrastructure, Wi-Fi will provide the same seamless experience that subscribers are used to in cellular networks. Automatic SIMbased authentication, optimized network selection, secure connectivity, and policy-based service options will increase the value of Wi-Fi access even as operators move to higher-capacity, faster LTE networks.

WiFi data offload can alleviate mobile network congestion, reduce churn and lock in customers with bundled WiFi/3G services. It can reduce operating expenses through the use of lower cost infrastructure, and increase revenue through subscriber retention and increased market share.Wi-Fi roaming also delivers important benefits to operators. Analysts agree that operators will greatly increase the amount of data traffic they offload to Wi-Fi and femtocells. They estimate that 30% to 60% of total data traffic will be offloaded from 3G and 4G mobile networks by 2015. At this rate, by 2015 commercial Wi-Fi networks will carry as much mobile data traffic as was carried by all mobile networks in 2010.

Leading Mobile Operators are using carrier grade Wireless Mesh as part of the Data Offload and incremental revenue strategy. In 2010 Mobily Saud Arabia ( who launched the first TD LTE commercial network in the world ) noticed a massive increase in data usage, fuelled by offering unlimited data subscriptions. Against this backdrop of increasing data usage, Mobily saw Wi-Fi as an efficient way to reduce the cellular capex investment in broadband infrastructure needed to match this spike in data usage. Today Mobily has around 350-400 public hotspots with each Hotspot comprising of multiple Wi-Fi Access Points covering multiple business verticals including cafes, hotels, hospitals, outdoor, and some challenging venues such as stadiums and Holy Pilgrimage areas.

Mobily’s business model is predicated on a hotspot portal based Wi-Fi virtual network with multiple service monetization models for both Mobily and non Mobily subscribers PLUS a cellular-to-Wi-Fi offloading virtual network, offering seamless and secure user experience with the use of EAP-SIM protocol and WISPr clients. Mobily intends to “offload” at least 20% of current mobile broadband traffic onto Wi-Fi networks and is designing the Wi-Fi network to meet this key performance objective . The Hotspot 2.0 standard will open the door for inbound roamers to connect seamlessly and securely to Mobily’s Wi-Fi network while their usage is being charged back to their home operator.

The devices using the most mobile data – smartphones, laptops and tablets – all support Wi-Fi. Currently, laptops and tablets ubiquitously support Wi-Fi and support of Wi-Fi by smartphones will increase from 50% to 95% by 2014.With smartphones and Broadband ‘dongles’ consuming considerable volumes of data very easily bill shock refunds have plagued Mobile Operators in advanced countries. As such, communications such as that sent by AT&T, particularly to iPhone users, advising them turn off Data roaming and suggesting the use of Wifi alternative have been quite common.

A seamless Wi-Fi offering will provide an attractive up-sell opportunity to existing mobile data bundles; either as a flat-fee, mobile roaming charge (MRC), or perhaps a free feature that can then be charged through usage. A good data offload solution can potentially play a wider role in extending service support to other technologies such as WIMAX or LTE, e.g. providing support for interworking of voice and messages services between 2G/3G and LTE. Essentially, capex can replace opex in the short term if it is justified by a longer-term return on investment. Therefore, ‘LTE readiness’ becomes crucial from a corporate as well as an operational perspective.

So what about reliable high speed Broadband for the masses ? Don’t be surprised if it is not LTE running on 800mhz because the allocation of Digital Dividend has been delayed in Africa : It might be Wifi backboned on terrestrial fibre ( esp in the rural areas ) to give the the african subscribers what they deserve after years of patchy low speed connectivity languish !!

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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