Intense demand driving vendors' interest in Wi-Fi offloading

Wi-Fi offloading is getting considerable attention, and then some, with escalating operator interest, which is, in turn, drawing notice from vendors big and small.

In a global mobile operator survey commissioned by Radisys and undertaken by Senza Fili Consulting, 82 percent of all operators surveyed support Wi-Fi offload. In addition, 100 percent of European and Asia Pacific operators intend to deploy small cell networks within two years, while 100 percent of North American operators will also do so but in three years.

"Even though Wi-Fi was in many cases deployed as a temporary solution, the operators surveyed are keen to retain their Wi-Fi infrastructure and/or roaming agreements after deploying LTE and small cells. The role of Wi-Fi may be reduced by small cell deployments, but most operators see the two as complementary," according to Radisys.

Wi-Fi offloading, as well as small cell networks, are seen by traditional mobile operators as ways to help ease network congestion. Though small players have dominated the Wi-Fi offload space, that is changing, as reflected by this week's announcement that Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) will buy privately held BelAir, which has made a name for itself by providing Wi-Fi access point technology, particularly in outdoor systems.

In yet another example of big vendor interest. Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU) last week unveiled its lightRadio Wi-Fi product, which is geared to operators that want to bundle Wi-Fi connectivity into their offering. The products lets customers switch automatically from a cellular service to residential or public Wi-Fi networks and hotspots without needing to login, deal with payment schemes or even be aware of the shift.

Wi-Fi offloading products from smaller vendors continue to proliferate as well. Ruckus Wireless, a rival of BelAir, will unveil next week at the Mobile World Congress its SmartCell, which combines a multi-radio, multi-function access point, the SmartCell 8800, with a small cell HetNet edge services platform, the SmartCell 200 gateway. The SmartCell 8800 combines Wi-Fi and 3G and LTE technologies, and the capability for Wi-Fi mesh backhaul between cells into a single, small device.  "With SmartCell, mobile operators can gain a capacity boost from LTE small cells, cutting costs and complexity by co-locating and combining them with Wi-Fi access points, sharing site-lease agreements and backhaul," said Ruckus.

Also at the MWC, Intrinsyc Software International, a developer of intelligent connected devices, will join small cell developer Ubiquisys to demonstrate Small Cell WiFi Wake-up, which combines a handset and small cell apps. WiFi Wake-up switches on a handset's Wi-Fi connection as a user enters a 3G/LTE/Wi-Fi small cell hotspot and logs into the hotspot's secure Wi-Fi network. When the user leaves the hotspot, the Wi-Fi connection is turned off. WiFi Wake-up will be demonstrated on a Ubiquisys smart cell, which combines a 3G/LTE/Wi-Fi small cell base station and computing platform.

In other Wi-Fi news, Accuris Networks announced that three unspecified North American top tier mobile operators have selected its AccuRoam product, for Wi-Fi offloading and also to enable International-roaming subscribers to automatically roam onto partner Wi-Fi networks when abroad. The AccuRoam platform enables smartphone and tables customers to automatically and securely access operators Wi-Fi hotspots by using their SIM credentials for authentication.

For more:
- see this Radisys release
- see this Ericsson release
- see this Alcatel-Lucent release
- see this Intrinsyc release
- see this Accuris release

Related articles:
Ericsson buys Wi-Fi gear specialist BelAir Networks
Wi-Fi offload at core of reported Ericsson BelAir buy
BelAir releases multi-mode metrocell with integrated wireless backhaul
Report: Sprint considering Alcatel-Lucent's lightRadio gear
Survey: 83% expect carriers to provide Wi-Fi service as part of bundle
With Wi-Fi offloading, should carriers build their own Wi-Fi network or share it?