October 9, 2014 — In this issue, we look at trends in wireless fidelity, also known as Wi-Fi, which has become a staple of consumer communications that has grown right along the side of cellular. It is the French fries that everybody wants with their hamburger. I wouldn’t be surprised if T-Mobile sales reps are automatically saying, “Would you like Wi-Fi with that?” The key to Wi-Fi is that, in addition to advances in speed, ways of monetizing the service are becoming a reality through analysis of the data they provide.
Wi-Fi analytics – This is targeted to improve network operations and develop deeper insight into, Wi-Fi traffic. Such analytical information can be used to target-market customers since it contains a real-time progress of what they are doing and where they are in the mall.
For example, if a shoe merchants in a mall gets data that a patron is looking for, say sneakers stores in the mall, they can send a message to a kiosk that the person is near, with a splash that says 25 percent off of all sneakers for the next 30 minutes. Combine this with big data analytics and fast processing, and the possibilities are endless. Imagine, that locations such as malls may have hundreds, or thousands of screens all over the place, each with targeted information for a particular shopper…hmmm, I think I saw that in the Total Recall movie – we have arrived.
802.11ac – The latest 5 GHz standard is beginning to see a lot of activity, and being considered for a number of vertical markets, among them, K-12 education. Wi-Fi vendors are seeing 5 GHz as a great opportunity, mainly because the spectrum isn’t as crowded as 2.4 GHz. And, support is starting to show up in many of the newer devices.
The 5 GHz band is ideal for smaller deployments where signals need to be kept contained, such as a classroom. The higher frequency coupled with the solid construction of most primary schools make it an ideal solution for such circumstances.
Wi-Fi Concealment – What? That statue is really a Wi-Fi AP? As Wi-Fi proliferates, the demand that APs become more and more inconspicuous is fueling the drive for customized concealment solutions. Sensitive locations, such as churches (really, your surfing during the sermon?) where antennas on walls or ceilings really is gauche (and who knows who it may anger?), need camouflaged equipment. Other installations where vandalism or theft can be a problem, or simply were they cannot be put out of the reach of users, need concealed or camouflaged hardware as well.
There are literally hundreds of places and reasons to hide devices so don’t be surprised if your favorite Wi-Fi router comes hidden inside say, a cat tree or concealed inside a wall clock. This has emerging industry written all over it.
Wi-Fi and small cell convergence – This is big and will only get bigger. Once some of the technical issues get ironed out (roaming, monetization, ownership, etc.) Wi-Fi will become a transparent technology integrated into small cells. We aren’t there yet but the potential market and financial potential will drive that to fruition.
Small Cells and LTE
Advancements in software-defined radio (SDR) architectures can now offer “network nesting,” or networks within networks with the integration of small cells. SDR allows network functionality to move away from the core in a distributed network model. The role that small cells play is that they can be used in the network to offer coverage to just about any locale and be part of the core. It is a really elegant solution, especially for rural tier-three operators who find it prohibitively expensive to upgrade to LTE via traditional means.
A company called ExteNet has come up with a distributed core solution that enables this type of network. “Despite having the spectrum, the economic model for deploying 4G LTE in less populated areas has been a challenge for rural carriers. This solution is a huge opportunity for new revenue sources for rural carriers,” said ExteNet co-founder Eric Lecacz.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell magazine.