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WiFi: Small Cells' Trojan Horse?

Sarah Thomas
2/25/2014
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BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- Obtaining the rights for public-access small cells is one of the biggest impediments to deployments, but Ruckus Wireless CEO Selina Lo has a plan: let WiFi be small cells' Trojan horse.

Her theory is that if a network operator starts with WiFi in a city, they'll have a much better shot of deploying a small cell in the same spot at a later date. The rights process is much easier with WiFi, but it's a significant challenge to small cells.

In fact, according to 23% of the Light Reading community, obtaining rights from the city to install small cells is the single biggest challenge in public access deployments. It was voted second only to deploying new backhaul, which 35% of the community chose. (See Small Cells in the City .)

So, here's where the Ruckus Wireless Inc. (NYSE: RKUS) chief's plan comes into play. Operators don't have the time or resources to spend negotiating with local governments for rights to their "city furniture," typically lampposts or traffic lights on which they can attach their small cells. But, there has been a resurgence in municipal WiFi of late. Lo said that cities recognize connectivity as a need, and it's a need they want to fulfill, preferably with partners.

"For a lot of service providers, this is another means to acquire sites, using WiFi as a Trojan horse," Lo told Light Reading in Barcelona. "WiFi is well understood; cities understand it, but a city could not implement small cells. By giving the city WiFi, they may let them attach small cells on the same post."

Ruckus is already working with the likes of San Francisco and San Jose, where it is creating its own goodwill by donating thousands of WiFi access points to provide connectivity in busy outdoor areas. These deployments didn't actually start with a network operator -- the cities decided not to wait but are open to leasing their networks to operators after the fact. But they are also just the start of what could be the resurgence in muni-WiFi. (See San Fran Taps Ruckus to Unwire its Outdoors, O2 Brings a Wi-Fi Ruckus to the Wharf, and Ruckus Eyes Carrier Deals After $126M IPO.)

"Now that the city has recognized [connectivity] as a need, it will be good for operators," Lo said. "They can really negotiate. The city has the need. If they can give them terms that are acceptable, it's a win-win."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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danny_be
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danny_be,
User Rank: Lightning
3/3/2014 | 9:31:31 AM
Re: Missed opportunity?
There is no dought that small cells are essential for enhancing capacity. To ilustrate that, look at this chart thaken from NGMN and Small Cell Forum releases:

mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2014 | 7:07:20 PM
What's the business model for municipal WiFi?
There have been several proposed WiFi project for cities over the years, and I'm not sure any of them had a really good business model. Giving away free internet access, and then inserting ads or hoping that foot traffic to businesses would increase municipla revenues is a pretty big stretch.

The limited coverage of WiFi also makes it a bit difficult to see a profit model -- because a city needs to deploy access points every few hundred yards to get decent reliability of service. 

Am I missing something? What's really changed in the WiFi landscape? The demand for broadband connectivity has always existed, but is it really that much higher now? And if it is, isn't it being supplied by wireless telcos?
chuckj
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chuckj,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2014 | 1:52:58 PM
Re: Missed opportunity?
Telco's are blocking small cell deploymnets because their business model is based on over subscription and they only consider small cells for coverage in extreme cases.  There is no business case for any hardware maker to make small cells for Telco, but with dedicated spectrum small cells for Enterprise is a huge market.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 8:43:32 AM
Re: Missed opportunity?
I think the difference between current muni-WiFi and failures of the past is, for one thing, the appetite for WiFi is much stronger now. People think it's their right to be connected. Also, companies like Ruckus are donating all the APs, so the upfront investment is minimal for the city. They just have to allow it on their furniture. Monetization comes after from services, ads, premium service, etc.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 8:42:02 AM
Re: Missed opportunity?
Telcos are anxious to count both as customers. How do you think they're preventing it? Pricing?
gk998
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gk998,
User Rank: Lightning
2/25/2014 | 8:15:28 AM
Re: Missed opportunity?
Not sure I see any business case for any Municipal/Local Authority (MLA) to bear the cost of a standalone WiFi deployment (there have been several cases where public cash has been spent but the deployment has been woeful or failed entirely).
I do see a case where an Operator can entice the MLA to be a proactive facilitator WRT the deployment, this is done by deploying Small Cells with integral Wifi capability.  the trade off is that the Operator provides the WiFi aspects FoC (i.e. HW & Integration services) and the MLA grants the rights to the sites (including power and assistance with the initial backhaul section).  OK so not all the locations desired by each party will match up but there should be sufficient to cover the interest of both parties.
chuckj
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chuckj,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2014 | 6:58:37 AM
Re: Missed opportunity?
Small cells have to have a defined spectrum like wifi. The problem is not the politician, the problem is the Telco monopoly on the spectrum. The businesses are hungry for having an open channel for localized ads to the customers smart phone, and the customers are hungry for free voice and data wherever possible, it is the Telco that is preventing that.
Sarah Thomas
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50%
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 5:35:53 AM
Missed opportunity?
I wonder how many more cities will follow the trend of deploying WiFi without an operator partner. They may want to get on work on getting in with the cities beforhand rather than after. Seems like they might have more wiggle room that way.
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