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Ericsson Gets Busy With BelAir

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) has been busy with its BelAir Networks Inc. acquisition since the deal closed in April, racking up a significant Wi-Fi contract, unveiling new products and revealing more about its plans for integrating the wireless technology with its cellular tradition. (See Ericsson Completes BelAir Acquisition and Ericsson Adds Wi-Fi With BelAir Buy .)

The Swedish vendor has landed a carrier Wi-Fi contract in India with the only operator to hold a nationwide 4G license, Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) , reports Light Reading's sister publication Light Reading India. Such a deal is significant not only because of its potential size but also because it shows how Ericsson's new Wi-Fi capabilities have resulted in new business for the company. Indeed, Ericsson was not RIL's 4G base station supplier as the operator chose Samsung Corp. for that equipment. (See Ericsson Gets RIL's WiFi Deal and Samsung Gets The Coveted RIL's LTE Deal.)

And at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Ericsson announced the first new products since it acquired the Canadian carrier-grade Wi-Fi company -- a new Wi-Fi access point and network controller that is designed for deployments in stadiums to support wireless access during events like sports matches or concerts. (See Ericsson Unveils Stadium-Optimized Wi-Fi.)

But Ericsson has a vision for its Wi-Fi portfolio that goes beyond updating the access point products with better interference mitigation, video optimization and self-organizing network (SON) features. Ericsson will continue to develop BelAir's products in this way, but it also wants to bring together Wi-Fi and 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) -based cellular technologies so that smartphone and tablet users can move between these different wireless access networks without losing coverage. (See Wi-Fi 'Wild West' Challenges Carriers.)

In a recent interview with Light Reading Mobile, Thomas Norén, VP and head of radio networks at Ericsson, talked about the company's goals for this kind of integration.

Ericsson aims to have some proprietary features available next year that will enable handover between Wi-Fi and 3G or Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks and it is also working with standards bodies to establish specifications for the handover techniques, said Norén. The features will be proprietary because "the standards are not quite ready," he added.

One possibility for this standardization could be a combination of the 3GPP's Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF) specification, which allows operators to set policies for when to use various access networks, with the Wi-Fi Alliance 's Hotspot 2.0 work, which enables Wi-Fi roaming.

Ultimately, according to Norén, "a device will be told to measure which access is the best for me, and in general, which is the best access for any user at any given time."

For Ericsson, this potential scenario would be the result of the combination of its own competency in 3GPP technologies with a Wi-Fi access controller. "We have a control node in radio networks … by building Wi-Fi control software on the node controller … we're able to combine the unique Wi-Fi capability from BelAir and systems we already had in house," said Norén.

"We think the real value of Wi-Fi will come when we've integrated the 3GPP technologies," he said. But don't just take Ericsson's head of radio network's word for it, his boss CTO Ulf Ewaldsson also talked about plans for "real handover capability" with Wi-Fi in a Light Reading TV interview at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam: The Lowdown on Service Provider SDN. (Ewaldsson talks about Wi-Fi around the 3:30 mark.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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