The Truth About Wi-fi and Cellular
The past two years have taught us a lot about wi-fi and cellular, and the myths surrounding the interoperability of the two technologies. Here we outline the top 10, some longstanding, some relatively new, and in each case outline the reality of the situation.
1. It is a Connection Management Problem
For a lot of people, the issues raised by wi-fi and cellular interoperability are couched in terms of connection management. This is an over-simplification. When you start building your solution to include extra Hypernet Optimised Services, like data mining, analytics and business intelligence integration, for example, you are effectively building richer technology that helps to facilitate new and exciting revenue opportunities.
2. EAP-SIM Solves Everything
That’s Extensible Authentication Protocol Method for GSM Subscriber Identity Module for the unitiated. EAP-SIM uses the subscriber identity and credentials contained in the SIM card to access a wi-fi network without the need for the user to input a pre-established password. But there are a number of issues with EAP-SIM. Firstly, not every device supports EAP-SIM methods. EAP-SIM excludes all wi-fi-only devices, which some carriers may want to ‘land-grab’ as part of their existing customer relationship. Also, EAP-SIM delegates the switching decision to the operating system – which today will typically assume that wi-fi is better than cellular. In addition, EAP-SIM authentication is far from perfect. Wi-fi Network Access Gateways often allow the device to associate, but do not open internet access, ultimately leaving it stranded.
3. ANDSF/ANQP Will Save the Day
Two more bits of technology, ANDSF (Access Network Technology and Selection Function), and ANQP (Access Network Query Protocol), that many feel may hold the answer to wi-fi and cellular interoperability issues.
Standards in the space have been under development for years, and are now starting to see the light of day. In our view, 802.11 standards, which provide the basis for wireless network products using the wi-fi brand, are important for user experience, authentication and security. However, the means of provisioning devices through ANDSF is not ideal. There is, for example, often a conflict between user added/self-managed wi-fi and carrier objectives.
4. Wi-fi is Bad for Battery Life
The official recommendation, in fact, is that if you use your phone for basic internet functions, it is lighter on the battery to use wi-fi than Cellular. In our tests, using regular usage patterns, we found that a user gets 64 per cent more usage time when using the internet over wi-fi, compared to over a cellular connection.
5. Wi-fi is Always Better than Cellular
Over several Western European deployments, we have built a picture of just how often wi-fi performance is better than cellular and vice-versa. The results are surprising. Somewhat surprisingly in our tests, you were better off on a cellular network 44 per cent of the time.
6. Wi-fi is Only Useful at Home
This might have been the case in the past. However, the bias to home usage is now changing, as the number of wi-fi hotspots accelerates, and wi-fi usage in public places grows. The best solutions from the latest generation of mobile access enablers drive wi-fi uptake by getting users quickly onto premium or free networks.
7. Premium Wi-fi is Better than Free
The correct answer is that neither is ‘better’. They both have pros and cons. It is how you manage the connectivity that matters. Total Reliance on either free or premium wi-fi will worsen the user experience.
8. Normal People Don’t Pay for Wi-fi
In our experience, users are increasingly building their own ‘Hypernets’ (the generic term to describe the ecosystem resulting from combining the internet with cellular and data networks). Many of them are trying to complete their own data access networks, and usually, this means that they are effectively paying for wi-fi as a bolt-on service from paid-for subscriptions to network and solutions providers such as BT, Virgin and Sky.
9. There are No Problems in Cellular
All the available evidence indicates on-going growth in data volumes and demand for data. Already in our deployments, we’re seeing unserved demand on cell towers at various times of day, while wi-fi networks at the same locations are still under-utilised.
10. Data Offloading = Revenue Offloading
The assumption that providing a wi-fi component to packages reduces revenue from bolt-ons and subscriptions is widely held – especially in carrier marketing departments. In our experience, however, when AirSense’s technology is implemented, cellular continues at its usual pace of increasing by about 2-3 per cent per month; and wi-fi sees a couple of step increases in usage, as users realise they get more access, and use it more. This is a revenue opportunity for carriers who can reap the rewards by charging extra for wi-fi bundles for domestic and international roaming.
Cutting out the Myths
The growing demand for rich internet connectivity from data-hungry mobile devices such as smartphones and Tablets has created a huge dilemma for operators. For these operators and the vendors that sell mobile solutions, the accelerating advancement of wi-fi, together with on-going growth in the cellular market, has thrown up challenges and generated market confusion, particularly with regard to the interoperability between these technologies.
This confusion has led to many of the myths surrounding wi-fi remaining unchallenged, but as Hypernet usage becomes more commonplace, and the need for seamless switching between networks becomes more urgent, it is increasingly important that these myths are confronted and put to flight.
James King is CEO at AirSense Wireless