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You Suck, Ofcom CTO Tells WiFi Industry

Iain Morris
11/1/2018
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Ofcom's Mansoor Hanif seems like the kind of person who stands among home fans at soccer matches and tells them why the other side is so much better. Or one who arrives late at a party and then belly flops on the cake.

His tardy arrival at this week's Wireless Global Congress can probably be excused. The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which represents the WiFi industry and organizes the event, decided to host it near Heathrow Airport. Not close to the terminal exits, mind, but about two miles away, in a part of London frequented only by men in hardhats, wheeling trolleys around, and people who have missed their flights. It is an eerily deserted place to be on Halloween.

Perhaps less forgivable, from the WBA perspective, was Hanif's behavior when he arrived. Wasting no further time, the chief technology officer of the UK telecom regulator got straight to the point of telling attendees why cellular trumps WiFi and slamming the WBA's latest report on the wonders of 802.11 whatever.

WiFi is a bit naff for all sorts of reasons when you compare it with cellular, and particularly 5G, according to Hanif. For starters, even though 5G has not yet proven itself, it is going to be an elephant of a technology, he said (photographic evidence is provided below).

Rare Sighting
Attendees at this week's Wireless Global Congress gather round for a glimpse of the fabled 5G elephant.
Attendees at this week's Wireless Global Congress gather round for a glimpse of the fabled 5G elephant.

Not a white elephant, that is, but an elephant in the metaphorical sense of a huge and powerful thing with loads of moving parts (this analogy conveniently overlooks the lumbering, covered-in-shit qualities of your typical elephant). 5G is an entire framework, basically. "Can WiFi be more than just a piece of that jigsaw?" asked Hanif knowingly. Or more than one bit of a dismembered elephant, he might have said. (See Piecing Together the 5G Big Picture.)

Even its reliance on unlicensed spectrum no longer distinguishes WiFi, Hanif argued, now that we have Terragraph (an unproven technology developed by the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project), CBRS (a chunk of shared licensed and unlicensed US spectrum unproven in commercial mobile networks) and 5G New Radio on unlicensed spectrum (still nowhere to be seen). (See Terragraph: A WiMax in Facebook Clothing? and Cable, Mobile Prepping for CBRS – Analyst.)

Hanif was asleep at lunchtime on Halloween six years ago, he told his audience, and not following nightmares that BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) would buy EE, his employer at the time. No, the man had just exhausted himself launching the UK's first 4G network. And look at 4G's ubiquity today -- unless you are traveling by rail or in some Godforsaken urban wasteland near Heathrow, that is. 5G will probably launch next September in the UK, said Hanif. If it copies 4G, it could be nearly everywhere by 2025. That gives WiFi about seven years to shape up or clear off. (See BT Locks Down £12.5B EE Takeover Deal.)

OK, so Hanif didn't quite put it that way. But the implication was (sort of) there. The 5G elephant is on a stampede and WiFi is like some unfortunate other creature of the wireless jungle that is about to get mauled beyond recognition. "My feeling is they haven't accelerated," said Hanif. "They were faster but now they are stagnating a bit and 'ax' is taking a bit too long to get out there."

For the benefit of the uninitiated, that "ax" refers to the latest 802.11ax standard, or WiFi 6, to those who like it simple. It's vulnerable, according to Hanif, because 5G, with its network slicing appeal, will have a much bigger impact in the home and the enterprise -- traditional stamping grounds for WiFi -- than 4G has ever managed. (See Arris Gets a Fix on WiFi 6 and 802.11ax Rebranded as 'Wi-Fi 6' .)

"It was true that owners of venues wanted WiFi and didn't always like to work with operators, but that is eroding," said Hanif. "There is a danger that [cellular] dominance moves from outdoor to indoor and encroaches on WiFi strengths."

Hanif basically thinks WiFi will struggle to meet the diversity of in-building requirements a business might have in a cost-effective way. Thanks to network slicing, a cellular operator should (in theory) be able to run different types of "virtualized" network service over the same infrastructure to address all these customer needs. Operators and managed service providers (including the likes of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)) are likely to pursue this market aggressively as a rare opportunity for cellular sales growth (upgrading 4G smartphone customers to 5G services probably won't do much for revenues). (See 5G Still More Like Rocket Fuel Than a Mission to Mars.)

WiFi doesn't vanish, in this scenario. But it does lose out. "[Cellular] might just be interworking with WiFi to manage legacy and then WiFi is just a dumb pipe," said Hanif. The convergence of underlying technologies might also accelerate its demise, as vendors come up with "system on a chip" designs to support both WiFi and cellular connectivity. "That is an area not addressed in your white paper," Hanif told the WBA.


Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on
Light Reading.


Criticize a football club this way and you would risk a clobbering. Hanif's audience was not visibly riled, though. Even the gentleman wearing sea-life socks -- bright red crabs and yellow starfish against a turquoise background (you know who you are) -- just listened attentively. You might expect more from such an outrageous dresser.

But the WiFi industry seems to be in confident spirits. "The WBA believes that the prominence of the next generation of WiFi technology, WiFi 6, will not be affected by 5G," says the WBA in a press release accompanying its latest report. With about 9 billion WiFi devices now in global circulation, the WBA can probably afford to be sanguine.

And operators themselves are far less religious about the whole issue. After all, if WiFi were not there to share the load, traffic congestion on mobile data networks would be a much bigger problem. Indeed, for many service providers, the real concern is not whether 5G beats WiFi, but ensuring the two can play together nicely.

"When users are switching to free WiFi, you lose the link between the operator and the customer," says Cedric Gonin, a senior marketing director for international mobile services at Orange. The Passpoint system that Gonin has helped develop is partly about maintaining this link in a seamless fashion. Orange (NYSE: FTE) is currently working with airlines to ensure Passpoint is available in planes offering WiFi connectivity to passengers.

So WiFi versus 5G seems likelier to be a friendly contest than a fight to the death -- a soccer match where the players can still shake hands and exchange shirts when the final whistle blows. Provided Hanif isn't there stirring things up.

— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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edward.cl
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edward.cl,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/6/2018 | 5:16:34 AM
Re: The Politics of Wireless clipart 2019 calendar png towncalendars
Perhaps less forgivable, from the WBA perspective, was Hanif's behavior when he arrived. Wasting no further time, the chief technology officer of the UK telecom regulator got straight to the point of telling attendees why cellular trumps WiFi and slamming the WBA's latest report on the wonders of 802.11 whatever.
kelseywilson
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kelseywilson,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/4/2018 | 11:13:25 PM
Ofcom cto tells Wifi industry
I strongly believe we’re approaching the point of ‘what’s good enough’ and when that’s coupled with ‘free Wifi’ I would ask why is the next technology always something we need more than the last. That would be £, how does the CTO of Ofcom help the SPs drive a step change in ARPU, exactly this. A growing and younger demographic will do what they can to avoid paying mobile data charges today. 4G everywhere, rather than a mish mash of 2G, E, 3G & 4G might be a start.
adlane2
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adlane2,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/3/2018 | 4:32:32 PM
The Politics of Wireless
WiFi 6 will be available before any OTHER 5G technology so I am not sure I understand what Mansoor means by WiFi being late. There are many organizaitons which promote the convergence of WiFi with other technologies including wireline such as CableLabs, Broadband Forum.  The WBA is one among them which looks at the objectives of its members, initially WiFi roaming and offloading and now moving to integrate wifi as part of the solution for use cases in smart cities, fixed wireless access and MNOs (see the example of KT). The WiFIi alliance too represents of course the interest of its members (as it should)  but with a clear agenda on WiFi continued adoption.

The discussion should be centered around uses cases, indoor vs outdoor, and what the best/cost affordable technology can deliver along the state of the ecosystem (devices) and available spectrum. The rest are politics and show business.
Chris Bruce
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Chris Bruce,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/3/2018 | 8:14:51 AM
Nice headline but right message?
This article has an attention grabbing title but I didn't take away the same message. I thought Mansoor Hanif was challenging the Wi-Fi eco-system to accelerate its developments (like Wi-Fi 6) to play a full part in a converged 5G / Wi-Fi world.  The WBA champions Wi-Fi user experience but its members realise that no technology exists in a buble and the convergence with 5G is going to be key for operators to serve their millions of users. btw, Heathrow may not have been ideal for some UK attendees but as the Wireless Broadband Alliance has a global membership (of fixed and mobile operators and vendors) it was chosen to assist international travellers, on this occasion.
Chris Bruce
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Chris Bruce,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/3/2018 | 8:14:50 AM
Nice headline but right message?
This article has an attention grabbing title but I didn't take away the same message. I thought Mansoor Hanif was challenging the Wi-Fi eco-system to accelerate its developments (like Wi-Fi 6) to play a full part in a converged 5G / Wi-Fi world.  The WBA champions Wi-Fi user experience but its members realise that no technology exists in a buble and the convergence with 5G is going to be key for operators to serve their millions of users. btw, Heathrow may not have been ideal for some UK attendees but as the Wireless Broadband Alliance has a global membership (of fixed and mobile operators and vendors) it was chosen to assist international travellers, on this occasion.
iainmorris
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iainmorris,
User Rank: Blogger
11/2/2018 | 9:50:14 AM
Re: WBA ≠ WiFi
It is an organization that champions WiFi, as evidenced by its recent white paper where it downplays any threat to WiFi from 5G, and its members include the likes of Intel. So I think it is fair to say it is representing the interests of the WiFi industry.
Intelefy
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Intelefy,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/2/2018 | 6:54:55 AM
WBA ≠ WiFi
Wireless Broadband Alliance does not represent the WiFi industry.  LightReading should issue a correction for getting this so wrong. 

 

If one only read the WBA website it's clear both that WBA wants readers to think they represent WiFi writ large, but the list of members, being so heavily dominated by mobile operators, reveals their true interest.
CEO&Chai78815
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CEO&Chai78815,
User Rank: Lightning
11/2/2018 | 5:01:33 AM
The WBA does not represent Wi-Fi - and other nonsense
First of all: The Wireless Broadband Alliance does not - please get this right, people, repeat: DOES NOT - 'represent the Wi-Fi industry'. They represent their MEMBERS who are nearly all carriers, and carrier Wi-Fi represents a tiny fraction of the total world of Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi industry is represented by the Wi-Fi Alliance, and that's a totally different and separate organsation. WBA is notorious for being a proxy for the wireless interests (including in SOME cases Wi-Fi) of AT&T and BT, their founding fathers and leaders.

That said: The Ofcom's CTO obviously has been drinking the coolaid served up in copious amounts by the '5G club' - we can probably all imagine the companies' names, so I won't repeat them here. I was not there - but if this story is representative of what he actually said, it is utter nonsense and harmful nonsense, at that. He owes himself and his exalted office to find alternative sources for his information. I'm happy to provide him with that information, should he find time in his schedule to lend an ear to something that is not 5G-propaganda.
Solution71458
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Solution71458,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/2/2018 | 2:42:16 AM
Yes that’s all well and good, but...
I strongly believe we’re approaching the point of ‘what’s good enough’ and when that’s coupled with ‘free Wifi’ I would ask why is the next technology always something we need more than the last. That would be £, how does the CTO of Ofcom help the SPs drive a step change in ARPU, exactly this. A growing and younger demographic will do what they can to avoid paying mobile data charges today. 4G everywhere, rather than a mish mash of 2G, E, 3G & 4G might be a start.
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
11/1/2018 | 12:56:55 PM
Existence
5G and Terragraph beats WiFi, eh?

Future technology that doesn't exist is always better than real-world technology, with real-world flaws and benefits. 
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