Mobile Ops Can Learn From Wi-Fi, Cisco Says
Mobile operators are increasingly deploying their own Wi-Fi access points as a way to provide a better data service experience to their customers, and the experience that operators are gaining should help them later, when they come to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) small cells, for example, noted Headley.
And that experience is not just about packet core and Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) capabilities such as policy control, charging, authentication and security, but in the (literally) nuts-and-bolts processes of installing small access points.
Headley noted that it's important to think about the passive infrastructure, such as the brackets used to "hang" Wi-Fi access points both indoors and outdoors, if operators are to deploy thousands of Wi-Fi access points quickly and efficiently. "Mobile operators haven't had to think about this sort of thing before with their RAN [radio access network] base stations. ... They need to think about how they can deploy hundreds of Wi-Fi access points every day."
Backhaul is another area where the operators can learn a lot. Indoor deployments, which account for about 80 percent of public Wi-Fi, are relatively easy as power-over-Ethernet cabling is used to hook up the access points within venues, shopping malls, airports and so on, and then backhauled over existing broadband (most often fiber) connections.
But in outdoor deployments, "backhaul is going to be a pain point in the years to come," Headley warns. Hard wire connections -- Ethernet, PON, cable -- can be used, though the Cisco man notes that, increasingly, he is seeing 5GHz directional antennas being deployed, while some mobile operators are using 3G and 4G dongles (HSPA+, LTE, even WiMax) to feed traffic back from access points to traffic aggregation points.
They key thing Headley advises operators to do right now, though, is to "get their backend [core] ready now so they can handle any kind of access technology," whether fixed, mobile or Wi-Fi.
Importance of the ecosystem
What's key to the success of service provider Wi-Fi is cooperation, stated Headley. "As much as Cisco likes to do things by itself, we all need to work together" to make this work, he noted, citing developments such as the "next generation hot spot" -- for which the Wireless Broadband Alliance is developing specifications -- as critical.
"We need a common set of standards so that we can bill, meter and manage Wi-Fi services. ... Wi-Fi can make the mobile Internet what we want it to be -- seamless with [plenty of] bandwidth wherever we are whenever we need it," he said.
Not that Cisco isn't doing OK by itself. It already has more than 200 service providers, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Orange (NYSE: FTE), PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008), Shaw Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), using its Wi-Fi equipment, with more than 12 million access points deployed.
Headley cited Canadian cable operator Shaw Communications as a particularly interesting example. Rather than try to compete with the country's major mobile operators in the LTE market, Shaw opted to deploy Wi-Fi as a way to offer wireless video and data services to its customers and rolled out its initial access network in just six weeks. (See Shaw Tries Cisco's HotSpot 2.0 and Shaw Scraps Cellular Plan.)
And for Cisco the opportunities for small cell engagements should only get bigger in the future, as the vendor is now also developing a broader range of wireless small cell products, including LTE access points. (See Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions.)
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading