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Carrier WiFi

Ericsson CTO Talks BelAir Buy

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s CTO says that the company moved to buy BelAir Networks Inc. because it needs to have technology that allows carriers to make better use of Wi-Fi as they build out ever-more comprehensive coverage.

The proliferation of data-hungry smartphones that can roam between Wi-Fi and cellular connections is what pulled public Wi-Fi provider BelAir into the arms of Swedish infrastructure giant Ericsson. This coupling would have been considered an unlikely pairing just a few years earlier, but times have changed. (See Ericsson Adds Wi-Fi With BelAir Buy .)

Ericsson's new CTO, Ulf Ewaldsson, told Light Reading Mobile that smartphones are "creating an enormous amount of traffic in networks ... and creating an opportunity for operators to compete on end user experience." That means that they need to "use Wi-Fi integrated in radio access networks better."

Not only do operators need to add Wi-Fi coverage to their access networks, but they also need intelligence in the network that makes it easier for users to move between Wi-Fi and cellular coverage as well as for operators to keep track of their subscribers' movements.

Also, Ewaldsson said that user behavior on smartphones is different from that on less advanced phones. "Indoor coverage is of much greater importance than on voice-centric phones," he said. "We need to build coverage where we haven't been before."

Examples of the kind of places where cellular equipment typically isn't widely deployed are shopping malls, sports arenas or other public venues, and enterprises. And that's where BelAir will take Ericsson.

Ewaldsson said that Ericsson will make BelAir's access point products part of its RBS 6000 base station family, as "just another base station but with Wi-Fi radio access." It will also use BelAir's network controller.

So now that Ericsson will have Wi-Fi as part of its portfolio, what's missing from its Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) vision? Nothing, according to Ewaldsson. "We feel very complete," he said.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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