How Wi-Fi is Graduating to Carrier Grade Technology for Mobile Services ?

WiFi as Mobile Data TechnologyIn the last decade Wi-Fi evolved as adhoc technology for connecting to the internet. Wi-Fi hot spots were not networked to each other in a contiguous network; for example, if you left your house, your session ended, and if you entered your office, you’d have to log in all over again. In addition, Wi-Fi was not used to deliver mobile services by service providers such as cable or mobile operators.

In the recent years this has all changed. Wi-Fi became more ubiquitous and affordable, it started evolving as carrier-grade technology. This has meant adding features to the Wi-Fi standard that allow service providers to use it as an integral part of their network infrastructure, such as the ability to roam, automatically authenticate users, set policies (e.g. limit amount of bandwidth consumption, block certain sites), and bill customers.

Hotspot 2.0
The Hostpot 2.0 adopted by the Wi-Fi alliance came into effect in June 2012. HotSpot 2.0 makes Wi-Fi act more like a cellular network. For example, HotSpot 2.0 enables automatic connectivity (the first time you log in, you enter credentials; after that, you can be automatically enabled), secure authentication for public Wi-Fi, and transparent roaming between various operator-owned networks. Client devices (such as smartphones and tablets) carry the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logo if they meet the HotSpot 2.0 requirements for security, interoperability, and reliability. The first major device to support HotSpot 2.0 was the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013.

Hotspot 2.0 Release 2 Standardized to Scale
In October 2014 the Release 2 of Hostpot 2.0 released the following enhancements with scalability on mind. A standardized way to provision a client device and store information while at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Operator policies, such as service provider roaming partner preferences, blacklist of SSIDs (Service Set Identifier, i.e. network name) not to connect to, or minimum bandwidth requirements; and subscription management features such as enabling a prepaid card to connect to a network for a certain duration, or enabling pay-as-you-go access. This operator-friendly features makes it much easier to deploy and monetize Wi-Fi by leveraging roaming agreements, billing, and customer management features.

iPhone 6 supported voice calls over Wi-Fi for the first time, although this feature is only supported by certain carriers (e.g. only T-Mobile in the US). If the Wi-Fi network becomes unavailable, the call switches over to the LTE network without interruption (if T-Mobile’s VoLTE service is available). This is different from over-the-top Wi-Fi calling (Skype).

In the next article we’ll see how LTE-Unlicensed can be used as carrier grade technology. Disruption in Unlicensed Wireless Bands will lead to the convergence of Fixed Line Operators[mostly absent in India] with Wireless for Mobile Data services.

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