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Alcatel-Lucent combines Wi-Fi and LTE to Enhance Mobile Performance

In 1966 the Beach Boys had a hugely popular hit, “Wouldn’t it be nice,” on their seminal Pet Sounds album. Having seamless high-performance user experience, including imperceptible handover between Wi-Fi and macro cellular networks, has always been in the “wouldn’t it be nice” category. With the unveiling by Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) ( ALU) of its ‘Wireless Unified Networks’ strategy out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 event in Barcelona, “nice” may just be in our future.

This new initiative solves some important operational issues for our service providers of choice. It blends the upload and download capabilities of Wi-Fi and cellular technologies with the dual purposes of enabling operators to have more capacity while we get a more ubiquitous, reliable and high performance user experience. In addition to providing operators higher speeds and feeds and capacity for both high-density and hard to reach locations, this means operators can combine their mobile offerings and Wi-Fi networks into one unified wireless network for home, office and outdoor environments.

In short, we will never have to leave their networking environment. It means no more toggling between network capabilities. The business model remains to be seen since we do not pay against our data plan usage for Wi-Fi, for instance, at home, on free public Wi-Fi hotspots or those affiliated with our cable TV operators, this is why we continue putting up with the hassles of no handover and manually switching modes.   

Wi-Fi and Cellular Boost Capabilities

ALU notes that as part of its Wireless Unified Networks strategy, there are two separate capabilities that blend Wi-Fi and cellular access:

  1. Wi-Fi boost uses cellular to enhance the performance of Wi-Fi networks
  2. Cellular boost uses unlicensed spectrum to enhance the performance of cellular

Combined, they maximize performance for subscribers across both access technologies.

 “As an industry we have historically treated cellular and Wi-Fi as unique technologies. For example, the industry debates the merits of Voice/Data over Wi-Fi versus Voice/Data over LTE (News - Alert),” Mike Schabel, Vice President of Small Cells in Alcatel-Lucent said. “With Wireless Unified Networks, we are excited to be taking the important steps to transform and greatly enhance the user’s wireless experience in the home, at work, and in dense venue networks by combining existing Wi-Fi and cellular networks into one high performance network.”

The two new capabilities can be deployed separately or combined for even greater performance gains. Alcatel-Lucent’s Wi-Fi boost technology combines the downlink of Wi-Fi with the uplink of cellular. These capabilities:

  • Require an OS software update to existing user devices that are capable of both cellular and Wi-Fi transmission
  • Require software updates in the network to blend the Wi-Fi and cellular access networks into a unified network
  • In typical homes, the Wi-Fi boost can increase download speeds up to 70 percent and increase upload speeds by an order of magnitude or more (compared to standalone Wi-Fi at the cell edge), while also doubling the Wi-Fi range

Alcatel-Lucent says it will trial the Wi-Fi boost capabilities in the second quarter of 2015 with commercial availability in the second half of 2015.  They also note that they will be introducing additional performance enhancements by adding a cellular downlink to the Wi-Fi downlink of the Wi-Fi boost. The company explains that this is consistent with the developing LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation (LWA standard known as LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation (LWA), and can more than double download speeds relative to standalone network capabilities.

Dan Rabinovitsj, Chief Operating Officer, Ruckus Wireless (News - Alert), in comments about the strategy said: “Ruckus Wireless believes that the LWA initiative has great potential for the growth of the wireless industry. We support Alcatel-Lucent's initiative to commercialize the integration and convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and will focus on introducing technologies that enhance Ruckus' leading carrier-class Wi-Fi networks for enterprise and service provider customers.”

When it comes to simultaneously accommodating the exploding population of devices and the bandwidth hungry apps on those devices, we as users might continue to put up with not having seamless Wi-Fi to cellular handover just to have great experiences regardless of where we are or what technology we are using. Indeed, the goal of unified wireless is not just about services providers and their need to be more operationally efficient and have the ability to expand their reach, it is about keeping us happy, i.e., always on and in all ways connected to their networks without having to search for alternatives. 

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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