WBA, NGMN Alliance aim to bridge Wi-Fi, 5G tech gaps

A new white paper identifies new business opportunities created by the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G at the network and RAN layers, including enterprise use cases, manufacturing, public hotspots and residential applications. (Pixabay)

While there’s growing recognition about the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G at the network and RAN layers, not everyone is aware of the importance of this trend, so the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance took it upon themselves to develop a white paper exploring the issues and highlighting techniques to bridge technology gaps.

According to the paper’s findings, mobile operators will benefit from the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G by gaining improved visibility into Wi-Fi networks, affording them the ability to control customer experience, deliver better services to customers and provide enterprise Wi-Fi network management solutions to enterprise customers. Wi-Fi operators will benefit by gaining better visibility and transition management as they operate overlapping cellular and Wi-Fi networks—and enterprise Wi-Fi networks will gain the ability to access operator-provided 5G services.

WBA’s membership is composed to major operators and tech companies, including Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, HPE Aruba, Huawei, Microsoft, Ruckus, SK Telecom and T-Mobile US. The WTA Board includes AT&T, Boingo Wireless, Comcast, NTT DoCoMo and others. The NGMN Alliance was founded by international network operators in 2006; its board includes AT&T, KT, BT and T-Mobile.

One of the key challenges is to enable tight integration between 5G New Radio (NR) and Wi-Fi for improved session continuity, and better resource utilization between NR and Wi-Fi for heterogenous enterprise/verticals, residential and public Wi-Fi environments, according to Tiago Rodrigues, general manager, WBA.

“A tight integration can also enable fast reaction time for traffic switching/splitting/steering over NR and Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi access based on changes to connection quality,” he told Fierce Wireless in response to questions over email. “Another important challenge is to enable Wi-Fi only devices, with or without SIM credentials on the device.”

Asked about Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) as a potential threat to Wi-Fi, Rodrigues said private LTE will be one more way to provide connectivity and it will coexist alongside Wi-Fi and 5G NR.

“Wi-Fi, in particular Wi-Fi 6, has a great capacity, cost-efficiency ratio, delivers many of the 5G requirements and has full backwards compatibility with all legacy devices already available,” he said. “5G and private LTE will need to have a clear strategy for policy and device management.”

Historically, Wi-Fi offers a faster path for telcos to monetize new use cases, and this holds true for the new generation, so rather than waiting for 5G-ready devices and sensors, etc., the market is moving fast, he added.

From a use case standpoint, Wi-Fi—and in particular Wi-Fi 6—can enhance capacity and coverage in indoor locations and mobilize a wider number of devices, including non-SIM, to the 5G ecosystem. At the same time, Wi-Fi has a great cost-efficiency radio and full backwards compatibility for any previous version of Wi-Fi, according to Rodrigues.