WBA, Small Cell Forum collaborate on Wi-Fi/small cell hotspots

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The Wireless Broadband Alliance announced a partnership with the Small Cell Forum aimed at integrating Wi-Fi hotspots with licensed small cells and also revealed that a fifth of mobile operators surveyed intend to launch next-generation Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of 2013.

The collaboration between the WBA and Small Cell Forum will examine how small cells could impact efforts by the WBA and GSMA to simplify Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) access and will also address sharing best practices for optimizing the user experience and operator deployment strategies for joint Wi-Fi/small cell hotspots.

The organizations also want to work on integrating Wi-Fi and small cells on a network level, instead of simply using Wi-Fi to provide a pipe into the cellular network. Doing so could shift cellular services such as voice and SMS to Wi-Fi hotspots to support cellular services and set the stage for advanced traffic management and smart offloading features over the radio interfaces as well as within the backend networks, said the groups.

Vendors are increasingly pondering ways to efficiently integrate Wi-Fi and small cells. For example, SpiderCloud has integrated Wi-Fi radios into its enterprise small cells, and Telefonica UK's O2 business is deploying outdoor Wi-Fi gear from Ruckus Wireless that will also support collocated small cell radios in the future.

The WBA's Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) program--which is designed to simplify public Wi-Fi access, particularly from smartphones by allowing secure connections without the need for usernames and passwords-- is in phase two of an international trial project involving more than 50 major industry players including AT&T (NYSE:T), Boingo Wireless, BSkyB, BT, China Mobile, Cisco, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), KT, NTT DoCoMo, Orange and Time Warner Cable.

The NGH program is expected to benefit from advances achieved by the WBA's work with the Small Cell Forum, said JR Wilson, WBA chairman, noting the collaboration promises to enable "a highly dependable, easy-to-use, seamless service across many different network technologies."

In other news, the WBA released results from a survey compiled by Informa Telecoms & Media, which showed that 19 percent of operator respondents expect to deploy NGH, which is based on Passpoint-certified equipment, by the end of 2013. Passpoint-certified devices automatically identify and join Wi-Fi networks, and users are not required to complete a manual login process. The Wi-Fi Alliance oversees Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, the certification program for devices and infrastructure equipment.

"Large operators are already seeing a significant increase in Wi-Fi usage. China Mobile, for example, saw a 102.5 percent year-on-year increase in Wi-Fi traffic in H1 2012, and Japan's NTT DoCoMo plans to grow its 14,200 hotspots by as much as 1.5 times before the end of the year," said Wilson.

The Informa survey also revealed that 40 percent of Wi-Fi hotspot connections are made via smartphones, while 39 percent of connections are made through laptops and 17 percent by tablets.

Three-quarters of the survey's operator respondents reported that less than 10 percent of their overall user base connects to hotspots while travelling. "NGH is a critical means of increasing international usage by allowing users to automatically connect to hotspots where their operator has a roaming agreement," said the WBA.

Four primary locations are expected to dominate future public Wi-Fi hotspot growth: Wide-area outdoor hotzones (such as parks); transport hubs (such as airports), social venues (such as bars and cafes); and local-area outdoor hotzones, (such as popular tourist attractions). More than 70 percent of survey respondents expect to invest in LTE as well as Wi-Fi hotspots.

Informa's survey, which was carried out during the third-quarter of 2012, drew responses from 386 participants.

For more:
- see this WBA release and this release

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