Wi-Fi continues to be a vital strategy for telcos as they seek to offload more and more traffic from congested mobile networks. And with the emergence of Carrier Wi-Fi, that’s good news for enterprise users of public Wi-Fi services.
Carrier Wi-Fi is a collection of technologies that enable operators to scale up their Wi-Fi access points, improving capacity, performance, security and energy management. This might sound a bit irrelevant to enterprise IT users but there is an upside: the whole experience of using data on the move will be improved with carrier Wi-Fi.
For one thing, carrier Wi-Fi includes the Hotspot 2.0 standard (marketed as Passpoint by the Wi-Fi Alliance). Based on IEEE 802.11u, this improves access to the Wi-Fi network. Instead of needing to find the right SSID and key in a password and perhaps credit card details, with Hotspot 2.0, all the authentication and billing will be performed seamlessly through the mobile SIM and network. This will result in users enjoying faster and more stable connections which can seamlessly migrate between access points, 4G, 5G or whatever other connection is available, with almost zero user input.
Another feature of carrier Wi-Fi is multimedia quality of service (QoS) which allows for traffic prioritization over the air (thereby helping the performance of apps that struggle with latency, jitter and packet loss) and admission control, which is a mechanism for determining when an access point is overloaded and then rejecting new client requests to preserve performance levels.
So what will all this mean to enterprise users when carrier Wi-Fi networks become commercially available from 2016 onwards?
1) Beat bill shock
Your international collection of Wi-Fi access accounts and iPass numbers will be consolidated to just one secure account handled by your network service provider, and all bought within one manageable (and controlled) bill.
2) Better connections
Because your Wi-Fi access will be secured and policed by one international partner, you and your employees will know they can expect good, stable access from wherever they happen to be – and their device, connected item or computer will warn them if the connection is weak or likely to fail.
3) More secure
Whether it’s a remote connected agricultural system requesting nutrition instructions or an employee in a coffee shop attempting to access your most privileged client list your enterprise needs security guarantees. You get these with carrier grade Wi-Fi, as industrial grade security and shared and agreed protocols mean carriers offering these services are also offering complete control.
No longer do users need to dig out Wi-Fi passwords. No longer do they even need to think about it as the entire process is utterly seamless.
4) Attractive premises
Property developers, working with operators, will be able to improve connectivity indoors by installing carrier grade Wi-Fi points. This can help make shopping malls more attractive places if the Wi-Fi experience is good and the cellular coverage is down to one bar.
5) Smarter shopping
Tens of thousands of connected systems will use Wi-Fi to communicate with each other and to the cloud. This opens up huge opportunities for retailers – not only will they be able to harness these networks in order to create secure conversations with shoppers, but they will be able to deploy their own connected systems, from the goods they sell to automated POS and vending machines. Consumers will be able to enjoy the full fruits of these digital customer experiences, and carriers will be able to support these experiences without watching their systems overload.
The BYOD and looming Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) era of mobile workforces depend on effective collaboration tools and stable connections to support future-focused Unified Communications and digital workspaces tools. Carrier Wi-Fi will be a cold drink in the desert to telecoms managers struggling to support voice over Wi-Fi in the enterprise; these solutions should make it possible to engage in that urgent discussion without bill shock. Indeed, as VoIP becomes more widely used it’s possible enterprises will eventually be able to dispense with fixed line telephones forever and all the costly and cumbersome cabling that goes along with them.
Sounds good, but where is it?
Interest in Carrier Wi-Fi is particularly strong in regions lacking fixed line infrastructure such as China, Indonesia and India. Infonetics claims the industry grew 53 percent in the year until 2012, but bandwidth demand has continued to grow ever since. Expect to see more roaming relationships emerge among carriers and cities domestically and across oceans meaning we can anticipate roll out of solutions for this shortly after certified Carrier Wi-Fi products reach market in 2016.
Read the Orange Business Services white paper that explains how your enterprise may gain technological and commercial agility from a new approach to networking through use of hybrid networks.
Jon Evans is highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men’s interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.