Whether it's adding the wireless technology to the cellular radio access network (RAN) or inside small-cell base stations, or fusing Wi-Fi access to a mobile operator's core network for deeper service integration, or even the rude mutterings heard when the Wi-Fi access at the Fira doesn't work, Wi-Fi will be a big deal at Mobile World Congress this year.
In this Wi-Fi renaissance, the wireless technology is about more than just mobile data offload, which, let's face it, is such an unpleasant word in this context. Who wants to be "offloaded," anyway?
A shift is apparent in mobile operators' designs for Wi-Fi that goes beyond using the wireless technology as a blunt offload instrument. What's different now is that as the traditional cellular brethren give Wi-Fi a bigger, warmer embrace, their offload strategies are becoming more fine-tuned so that they can extract more value (and, naturally, more money) from subscribers' Wi-Fi use.
A good illustration of how things have changed is Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s reported interest in acquiring Wi-Fi firm BelAir Networks Inc. (See Ericsson Sizing Up BelAir Buy for Wi-Fi Push.)
So expect to see more Wi-Fi added into small cells and more efforts further back in the network to blend Wi-Fi access into mobile operators' core network systems so that operators can keep better track of subscriber usage patterns when they're on Wi-Fi. There is also likely to be talk of different pricing models for mobile and Wi-Fi service bundles.
You can find our Wi-Fi coverage and all the MWC news on our Mobile World Congress dedicated show site. Here's what we've covered recently:
- AlcaLu Tackles Wi-Fi Handoff
- Stokin' Up Wi-Fi's Operator Cred
- Cisco: Tiered Pricing Drives More Data Usage
- BelAir Small Cell Packs Backhaul Punch
- Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi
- Wi-Fi vs. Wireless: Who Cares?
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile