Startup XCellAir is trying to drive home the point to carriers that they might want to take a closer look at how they're managing Wi-Fi. According to research released last week, operators collectively could be leaving up to $18 billion on the table by failing to properly manage unregulated spectrum.
The study, which also highlights XCellAir's relevancy in the current debate over LTE in unlicensed spectrum and the forthcoming Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) standard, was conducted in partnership with Real Wireless. It showed that poor management of Wi-Fi assets severely limits their usefulness in dense urban areas where many access points are deployed to serve large numbers of users and large volumes of data. Interference between access points and minimal spectral management often result in sub-optimal experiences for users, they noted.
XCellAir, which came out of stealth mode earlier this year, conducted an analysis of 250 live Wi-Fi access points around its offices in Montreal, Canada, modeling common urban scenarios in which public Wi-Fi is in everyday use. The study revealed that 92 percent of access points do not adjust their operating frequency, no matter how badly performance is degraded by interference.
It also found that, on average, two channels worth of bandwidth is unused at any given time, despite congestion and interference. Each channel equates to 50 Mbps of idle bandwidth totaling 100 Mbps unused, the company said in a press release. In practical terms, it said, that is enough latent capacity to concurrently stream 25 HD videos, or more than 3,000 HD voice calls.
For Wi-Fi offload to be truly valuable, the customers' quality of service needs to be just as good as it would be on the cellular network, rather than a "second-class network" customers are stuck on when data demand is high, said Narayan Menon, founder and CTO of XCellAir. "Operators must consider unregulated and unlicensed spectrum as another asset in their radio network and must manage it appropriately or fail to maximize its revenue and service potential," he said in a press release.
If that sounds like operators getting more heavily involved in using unlicensed spectrum – which is all about the LTE-U/LAA efforts – that's no coincidence.
"We still envision, for our business, the combination of LTE and unlicensed spectrum," whether it be through Wi-Fi or some of the other things in the unlicensed space like LAA and others, that's the longer term vision, Todd Mersch, vice president at XCellAir, told FierceWirelessTech. "But right now, we see a lot of opportunity within purely the optimization and automation of services using Wi-Fi," he said.
The way a lot of operators are using Wi-Fi is as an offload vehicle and it's not tightly integrated into the network; often, it's a separate organization in the mobile network operator or they're using a third party like an iPass or Boingo Wireless and not taking advantage of it as an integrated service, he said.
The idea is that instead of having price-sensitive customers going to MVNOs or Wi-Fi first service providers, the wireless operators could capture more of that business for themselves. "We believe they can maybe leverage Wi-Fi as a more cost effective mechanism to service those customers but not in the way they are today, which is basically offloading the whole experience to a third party," Mersch said.
XCellAir supplies the cloud-based software that integrates with the equipment and does both radio optimization as well as automates all the management. One of the key features is an auto-healing capability, so before issues actually arise, "we fix them within the network, both at the individual access point level but also at the network level, he said.
XCellAir hasn't announced any U.S. customers but is in a trial stage. "We do have more traction in North America," he said, and some of that is related to not just the traditional mobile operators but also the MSOs and cable operators where Wi-Fi first is their business model.
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