WBA and NGMN Alliance: Standardized interface between Wi-Fi and cellular critical for Wi-Fi 6/5G convergence
As Wi-Fi 6 and 5G continue to follow a comparable rollout timeline, many find themselves wondering just what to expect from the two technologies, especially when considered together. 5G implementation will create a new set of use cases around the world, many of which may require a combination of resources to achieve truly enhanced throughput, latency, connection density, coverage, availability and reliability.
The RAN Convergence White Paper developed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance explores the importance of existing and future Wi-Fi and cellular convergence. The paper, sanctioned by 38 mobile operators, has identified the ways in which carriers and Wi-Fi operators will benefit from this convergence, as well as the challenges expected to arise.
For mobile operations, according to the paper, Wi-Fi and 5G convergence offers improved visibility into Wi-Fi networks, allowing them more control over customer experiences and the ability to provide better service. Further, mobile operators are in a better position to provide enterprise Wi-Fi network management solutions to enterprise customers.
On the Wi-Fi side of things, the paper states that, as the two technologies converge, Wi-Fi operators will also be able to provide an enhanced user experience through increased visibility and improved transition management as they operate overlapping cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, enterprise Wi-Fi networks will gain the ability to access operator-provided 5G services.
Wi-Fi vendors, in particular, have been vocal about the importance of convergence. Earlier this year, Boingo CTO Derek Peterson stated that Boingo “strongly believes in convergence,” adding that those in the industry will “need all the technologies.” Charter Communications and Cisco Systems have also expressed interest in how Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will work alongside each other. In February, for instance, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins commented at the Mobile World Congress trade show that “Wi-Fi 6 and 5G are made to work together.”
The convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G is also expected to create new business opportunities at the network and RAN layers. “As the paper highlights,” commented Tiago Rodrigues, general manager, WBA, “convergence of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 in the RAN is vital for 5G coverage in dense locations and indoor deployments, giving stakeholders the ability to cost effectively improve performance, while ultimately improving return on investment (ROI) for mobile operators.”
Some of the key use cases covered in the paper include the convergence of 5G and Wi-Fi for Enterprise Wi-Fi, and factories that are increasingly implementing machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), advanced analytics and automation. In addition, the paper explored how the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G will enable enterprises and cities to create contiguous Wi-Fi access through the use of public hotspots, as well as a scenario for providing a mix of traffic within the home Wi-Fi network and femtocell 5G deployments.
While integrating Wi-Fi and cellular networks in enterprise, residential and public spaces will undoubtably have its benefits, the paper was sure to point out and explore the challenges associated with such integration. As implementation moves forward and expands, there will be an issue of standardization across networks. Therefore, the paper highlights the benefits of creating a standardized interface between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Doing so, argued the WBA and the NGMN Alliance, will improve end-to-end network performance, elevate user experience and create new business opportunities mobile and Wi-Fi operators.
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