How Wi-Fi Can Offload Cellular Networks in the Era of 5G
The Need for a New Business Model
The mobile telecommunications industry is at a crossroads. For years, mobile operators have relied on a simple business model: build networks and charge customers for access. This model has been remarkably successful, driving spectacular growth in both the number of subscribers and the amount of data they consume. However, as penetration rates increase, the number of new subscribers is beginning to plateau. At the same time, customers are becoming more demanding, expecting faster speeds and more reliable service. As a result, mobile operators are under pressure to upgrade their networks to 5G, the next generation of cellular technology.
The Challenges of Profitable 5G
While the world is on the road to ubiquitous 5G networks and services, carrier Wi-Fi will still play an important role in keeping costs low and ensuring profitability. Yes, we know 5G will enable a wide range of new and innovative services, from IoT to self-driving cars, but the key for service providers will be to keep their network costs under control.
Carrier Wi-Fi can help with this by offloading traffic from the cellular network and providing a cost-effective way to extend coverage. In addition, carrier Wi-Fi can be used to create private or public 5G networks for specific applications, such as industrial or enterprise use cases. By leveraging carrier Wi-Fi, service providers can keep their network costs down while still delivering high-quality 5G services.
5G is Expensive to Deploy
The problem is that there is no guarantee that customers will be willing to pay for the higher speeds and improved performance that it offers. To make matters worse, many countries are lagging in the development of 5G infrastructure, which means that mobile operators may need to bear the brunt of the investment themselves. Given these challenges, the traditional business model is no longer sustainable. Mobile operators will need to find new ways to generate revenue if they want to stay afloat in the 5G era.
Indoor Coverage is a Challenge
One of the biggest 5G challenges is building sufficient indoor coverage. The current cellular frequency doesn’t have the best building penetration and is only going to get worse as we move to the 5G network. On top of that, with the higher frequencies comes higher coupling losses. We’re looking at a -6dB loss for every doubling of frequency, which quickly adds up.
To combat this, mobile operators are turning to beamforming. This technology sends radio signals from the outside in, bypassing much of the interference and path loss that would traditionally slow down or stop the signal. However, beamforming comes with its own set of challenges. Foremost among them is the need for accurate mapping of a building’s interior to place the beams in the right spot. Otherwise, all you’ve done is create a more targeted form of interference. As operators work to overcome these challenges and build a reliable 5G network, indoor coverage will be a key area of focus.
In the past, operators have had to use complex and expensive modeling systems to plan reliable coverage. Technology like DASCAD is making it easier than ever for operators to plan coverage both indoors and outdoors using the same, cost-effective tool.
As indoor data consumption continues to grow, operators will need to find ways to increase capacity and improve coverage. One solution is to densify their base station network, but this is only part of the equation. Indoor coverage will also need to be addressed, and Wi-Fi is the perfect complement to 5G for this purpose. Wi-Fi offloading is a process whereby data traffic is transferred from a cellular network to a wireless LAN.
For example, when cell phone users connect to the internet via their cellular data plan, it can put a strain on the carrier’s network. This can lead to slower speeds and dropped connections, especially during peak hours. Wi-Fi offloading is a technique that allows carriers to reduce the strain on their networks by routing traffic through Wi-Fi hotspots instead.
Tools like DASCAD can help planners better understand how to offload traffic to Wi-Fi by providing traffic studies within the software itself.
But Who Exactly Benefits from this Technology?
For starters, Wi-Fi offloading can be necessary for businesses that rely on the internet to function. For example, many retail stores use Wi-Fi to process transactions and connect to their inventory systems. If the store’s Wi-Fi connection is constantly being overloaded, it can lead to frustrating delays and even lost sales. By offloading some of the data onto a separate network, businesses can keep their systems running smoothly and avoid losing customers.
Similarly, Wi-Fi offloading can also be a great way to improve the user experience for people who live in densely populated areas. If you’ve ever tried to use your phone in a crowded place like a stadium or an airport, you know how frustrating it can be when the network is overloaded. By routing some of the data traffic onto a different network, Wi-Fi offloading can help reduce congestion and improve speeds for everyone.
Three Types: Automatic, Opportunistic, and Aggressive
There are a few different ways that Wi-Fi offloading can be achieved. The most common method is known as “automatic handoff.” This is when a device automatically connects to the strongest signal, whether it be cellular or Wi-Fi. Another method is “opportunistic offloading,” which occurs when a user manually connects to a Wi-Fi network instead of using the cellular connection. Finally, “aggressive offloading” happens when a carrier intentionally routes all traffic through a Wi-Fi network to relieve congestion on the cellular network.
How Do Network Operators Implement Wi-Fi Offloading?
There are several different ways to implement Wi-Fi offloading, but the most common is to use specialized hardware at cellular towers. This hardware detects when a user’s device is in range of a Wi-Fi network and automatically switches the connection to the Wi-Fi network. In some cases, the user may need to enter a password or take other steps to connect to the Wi-Fi network. Once connected, the user’s device will automatically switch back to the cellular network when it is no longer in range of the Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi offloading can be an effective way for network operators to manage congestion, but it is not without its challenges. One challenge is that not all devices are compatible with Wi-Fi offloading. Another challenge is that switching between networks can sometimes result in a poorer quality connection. As mobile data usage continues to rise, network operators will need to continue to explore new ways to manage congestion on their networks.
Benefits of Using Wi-Fi Offloading
Wi-Fi offloading can:
- Improve the performance and user experience of cellular networks. When users connect to a Wi-Fi network, they bypass the cellular network and connect directly to the Internet. This can reduce congestion on the cellular network and improve speeds for all users.
- Save money for both network operators and users. When users connect to a Wi-Fi network, they use data from their data plan rather than from the cellular network. This can save money for network operators by reducing the amount of data that they need to provide, and it can save money for users by reducing their monthly cell phone bill.
- Improve battery life for both mobile devices and cellular networks. When a user connects to a Wi-Fi network, their mobile device does not need to use as much power to communicate with the cellular network. This can improve battery life for both mobile devices and cellular networks.
- Improve the coverage of cellular networks. When a user connects to a Wi-Fi network, they can access the Internet from more places than when they are using the cellular network. This can improve the coverage of cellular networks and make it easier for users to stay connected.
- Improve the security of cellular networks. When a user connects to a Wi-Fi network, their traffic is encrypted and is not subject to the same security risks as when it is transmitted over the cellular network. This can improve the security of cellular networks and protect users from potential threats.
Complications and Downsides
If you are considering implementing Wi-Fi offloading in your network, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
- Offloading can increase the amount of traffic on your Wi-Fi network, which may require you to upgrade your equipment or increase the number of access points.
- Users need to be aware of how to connect to a Wi-Fi network to take advantage of the benefits of offloading.
- Your network needs to be configured properly to allow Wi-Fi offloading.
- You need to have a plan in place to monitor and troubleshoot any problems that may occur with Wi-Fi offloading. You may need to have a dedicated team in place to handle any issues that may arise.
But Won’t 5G Make Wi-Fi Obsolete?
As the rollout of 5G technology continues, many people are wondering how it will impact their Wi-Fi connection. Will 5G make Wi-Fi obsolete? Actually, the opposite is true — 5G will complement Wi-Fi and provide a boost to speed, capacity, and quality. Here’s how.
The latest Wi-Fi technology, Wi-Fi 6, has significantly increased connectivity speed and capacity over traditional Wi-Fi networks. The higher speeds and reduced latency of the new technology will enable new applications and experiences, such as augmented reality and virtual reality. In addition, it is better equipped to handle the increasing demand for data-intensive applications, such as 4K video streaming and cloud gaming. The increased capacity will also be beneficial for the growing IoT market by providing a more reliable and efficient way to connect devices,
The Share of Offload Traffic Will Continue to Increase
It’s no surprise that device data consumption continues to rise, especially due to the increased demand for video streaming and collaborative work applications, such as virtual meetings. In fact, research suggests that offloading is a global trend. The main reason for this is simple: capacity. Carriers have a finite amount of spectrum available to them and there is only so much that can be done to use it more efficiently. MIMO (multiple input, multiple output, a technology for optimizing wireless data transmission by using two or more antennas) and carrier aggregation can help, but the reality is that there are limits to what these technologies can do in terms of boosting spectral efficiency. So, while 5G will bring higher speeds and lower latency, it will also bring with it an ever-increasing need to offload traffic onto Wi-Fi networks.
The Wi-Fi offloading trend has profound implications for service providers everywhere. First, it means that they need to have a robust Wi-Fi strategy in place. Second, it means that they need to start thinking about how best to monetize their Wi-Fi networks as they become an increasingly important part of their overall business. And third, it means that they need to start working more closely with the vendors who provide them with access points and other Wi-Fi equipment. In short, carrier Wi-Fi is inevitable and service providers need to be prepared for it.