Cisco leads charge towards integrated Wi-Fi/cellular
Flood of combined platforms at MWC, and Small Cells Forum aims to bring divergent standards together
Published: 28 February, 2012
However, this will require open standards to develop quickly, and the newly renamed Small Cells Forum has put its weight behind the goal. "The smallness of the cell is less important than the openness" to achieving the benefits of the new-style RAN, said Simon Saunders, chairman of the Forum. Although there are strong standards in both cellular and Wi-Fi, currently they are treated as entirely separate networks. Efforts to bring the two worlds together, such as HotSpot 2.0 and the 3GPP's Samog project, have been evolving independently of one another, reflecting the long history of separation and suspicion between the Wi-Fi and 3GPP communities.
The Forum has published a white paper as part of its bid to bring the various standards bodies together, and contribute work which could help them devise a universal standard. This draws on ongoing work by the group, which outlines how combining Wi-Fi and 3G/4G can improve capacity, offload and user experience, as well as sharing backhaul, allowing carriers to use advanced traffic management tools across all their networks, and lower device costs.
"The use of small cells and Wi-Fi in today's mobile networks constitutes one of the most significant developments in mobile in recent years. The long term growth in mobile coverage and capacity is fundamentally reliant on both technologies. However, by employing them separately operators are missing out on significant advantages," said Saunders. "By integrating small cells and Wi-Fi, operators can not only lower their costs and simplify installation, they can usher in an era of 'intelligent capacity', where mobile traffic will be directed along the smartest possible route in order to deliver the best possible user experience. However, in order to realize this vision, the industry is going to need to cooperate on overcoming several challenges."
In a new report for the Forum, Informa said it expects twenty-fold growth in small cell base stations over the next five years, from 3.2m this year, and this year will see the number of small cells (including indoor femtocells) overtaking that of traditional form factors, while by 2016 the miniaturized products will account for 88% of the total base.
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