Ericsson buys Wi-Fi gear specialist BelAir Networks

Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) agreed to buy Wi-Fi networking gear specialist BelAir Networks, adding carrier-grade Wi-Fi offloading technology to its equipment portfolio. This deal comes at a time when carriers are increasingly turning to offloading to handle the increase in mobile data traffic.

Privately held BelAir has made a name for itself by providing Wi-Fi access point technology, particularly in outdoor systems. BelAir, which competes with the likes of Ruckus Wireless, has made inroads with cable providers and wireless providers. Its customers include AT&T (NYSE:T) and Comcast.

Ericsson said it will not only acquire BelAir's carrier-grade Wi-Fi portfolio, but also its technical expertise, intellectual property and established customer contracts and relationships. Ericsson plans to combine BelAir's portfolio with its own radio products and its heterogeneous network strategy for carriers.

The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal, which Ericsson expects to close in the first half of the year. GigaOM first reported in late January that Ericsson would buy BelAir.

Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson told FierceWireless that the deal allows Ericsson to focus on enhancing the end-user experience by combining unlicensed spectrum with cellular networks. "We want to make sure that it can coexist and be coordinated with macro networks and small cell networks," he said in an interview.

Ewaldsson said that BelAir's solutions are highly scalable and that the company has tens of thousands of access points that can be integrated into Ericsson's offerings, as well as radio controllers that can be integrated into core networks.

Customers increasingly want Wi-Fi to be an integral part of their mobile data experience. The vast majority--fully 83 percent--of respondents to a November survey commissioned by Wi-Fi solutions provider Devicescape believe that wireless carriers should provide them Wi-Fi access as part of a bundled package.

Ewaldsson said the deal will allow Ericsson to move toward a solution that will allow customers to seamlessly access Wi-Fi networks without having to authenticate themselves. "All of that will be in the network," he said.

Of course, Ericsson isn't the only vendor looking to Wi-Fi solutions. Last week Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU) unveiled its lightRadio Wi-Fi product, which is geared to operators that want to bundle Wi-Fi connectivity into their offering so their subscribers can seamlessly move from cellular to Wi-Fi without dropping the session.

For more:
- see this release
- see this IDG News Service article

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