Cellular Carriers Are Onboard with Wi-Fi Offload

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of NGN.

Mobile network operators that sell services have been trying to figure out for a while now just how Wi-Fi fits into their strategies. Was it a competitive threat to their cellular networks? Was it a way to generate new revenues by offering connectivity within bookstores and coffee houses? Or was there some business model for Wi-Fi that had yet to be discovered?

Now, it seems, they’ve got it. Wi-Fi is a nifty way for mobile operators to offload traffic from their cellular networks.

“Wi-Fi has proved to be a very important supplement to the cellular network,” says Wang Jianzhou, chairman and CEO of China Mobile (News - Alert), a keynote speaker at Mobile World Congress last month.

China Mobile expects to operate 1 million hotspots nationwide in China within three years, he says, adding a directive for all handset manufacturers to offer Wi-Fi as a default function in their devices going forward.

He says China Mobile is talking with KT of South Korea and NTT DoCoMo (News - Alert) of Japan about partnering for international Wi-Fi roaming. China Wireless News reported in January that the three companies had signed a data roaming package. That story says the threesome also discussed the possibility of expanding on that relationship in the future by creating a "Northeast Asia free roaming region" for Wi-Fi.

With all this interest around Wi-Fi offload, it comes as no surprise that equipment vendors are pushing solutions in this vein.

Cisco (News - Alert) says its new Wi-Fi solution allows service providers to free up capacity on their networks by moving some traffic to Wi-Fi, and delivers seamless security/authentication that can help carriers to support various new revenue-generating services.

“We are committed to improving our user's experience on Wi-Fi,” says Philippe Lucas, senior vice president of standardisation and ecosystems development at Orange (News - Alert). “That is why Orange is involved in the Cisco Next Generation Hotspot initiative with other industry players to develop seamless connectivity between 3G and Wi-Fi. We believe that a SIM-based authentication model will bring simplicity and enhanced security for customers, especially when roaming. We currently rely on Cisco’s network capabilities to provide Orange Wi-Fi access in public hotspots covering more than 2,000 sites in France.”

Jaishree Subramania, senior manager of marketing solutions at Cisco, says that the company’s Wi-Fi solution allows for authentication from a single point within the service provider network, helps maintain session persistence, and enables handoff between cellular and Wi-Fi networks – allowing for a seamless and secure customer experience.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi