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Both subscribers and devices tend to connect to Wi-Fi whenever it is within reach. Mobile operators need Mobile Data Offloading to follow their subscribers and provide indoor coverage and much-needed additional capacity. The business case for Wi-Fi offload is both about saving on costs and reducing churn.
Why Wi-Fi Offload
For years, mobile subscribers have been using mobile broadband at an affordable price in many markets, even for a flat monthly fee regardless of usage. That worked well until the beginning of the “iPhone era.”
Additionally, more and more devices such as laptops and tablets come with mobile data broadband capabilities built-in, as they are designed to download content anywhere, any time.
While some mobile operators urgently need a cost-effective way of satisfying customers’ ever-increasing hunger for more bandwidth, this is not the only driver for Wi-Fi offload. As devices with built-in Wi-Fi perform better in Wi-Fi networks (with speeds up to 1,3 Gbit/s) than in 3G/4G – especially indoors – mobile operators need to be able to deliver an excellent Wi-Fi-based end-user experience. The higher frequencies in 5G make the symbiotic relationship with Wi-Fi even more crucial as a complement for indoor coverage and additional capacity.
Furthermore, with the growing number of new types of devices being designed specifically as “Wi-Fi-only,” the operator can decrease churn and make subscribers more “sticky” by offering Wi-Fi.
Indoor Coverage an Increasing Challenge in Cellular Networks
The indoor coverage challenge, using macro cells, already exists in the case of 4G. For example, 20% of buildings in the US are struggling with proper indoor coverage. The problem is exacerbated in the case of 5G because of the higher frequency bands involved. Initially, 3.1-4.9 GHz is a commonly used frequency range, but 5G will also employ the millimeter band above 30 GHz, and at such frequencies, line of sight is required for signal reception. Already at the 5G frequency of 10 GHz, the only indoor coverage option is to place your receiving device as close to an untreated pane of glass windowpane as possible. The energy-conserving glass used in many new buildings or other treated glass panes will effectively attenuate the signal making indoor coverage more or less impossible.
Wi-Fi is more relevant than ever in the 5G era. Learn more about this in our white paper Wi-Fi in the 5G era – Strategy guide for operators.
Reduce Cost with Selective Wi-Fi Offload
Mobile network traffic data may indicate overcapacity. But that is often only true as a high-level average. There will always be some cell sites suffering from congestion and some only serving a handful of subscribers. Selective Wi-Fi offload is the answer; Build Wi-Fi capacity where needed most to make users happy (Churn Zone) and always for indoor coverage.
If regulations allow it, mobile operators may even take the bold step to replace cellular with Wi-Fi at some locations (CAPEX overload Zone).
Here is our suggested list of reasonably simple network changes that would create a Wi-Fi offload service and hence a quick new source of revenue for operators:
- Create an additional SSID (network name) supporting the 802.1x protocol on your existing Wi-Fi footprints, including your managed B2B Guest Wi-Fi.
- Enable SIM-based Wi-Fi services authentication (using the EAP-SIM/AKA protocol).
- Introduce selective offloading of mobile traffic to Wi-Fi at various locations.
By introducing the correct configurations and correctly provisioning devices, such a scheme would create an additional layer of mobile network capacity using Wi-Fi. But this would also require that mobile and fixed parts of the operator organization collaborate to get the most out of the Wi-Fi footprint. Read our blog post break organizational silos to learn more.
Three Key Aspects of Wi-Fi Offload
There are three main aspects of Wi-Fi offload that mobile operators need to address to benefit from offloading data traffic from cellular networks (3G/4G/5G) to Wi-Fi. Our Wi-Fi offload solution helps service providers manage these aspects holistically with a pragmatic and cost-effective deployment approach.
1. Building Wi-Fi Footprint for Offloading
Whether mobile operators partner with existing Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), build their own Wi-Fi offload network, or both, they all share the same challenges.
Either way, they can rely on Aptilo’s vast experience delivering proven carrier-class Wi-Fi service management and policy control solutions to more than 100 service providers in 70 countries since 2001. The Enea Aptilo SMP (software) and SMP-S (service on AWS) provide a highly scalable carrier-grade public Wi-Fi solution. It includes enhancements for Wi-Fi offload, making it ideal for operators who want to build their own Wi-Fi footprint and those who just want to roam with wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). Third-party Wi-Fi networks can easily be incorporated and benefit from our value-added functionality for Wi-Fi offload.
Many Wi-Fi service provider roaming interfaces have been technically verified through our platform, including WBA OpenRoaming and leading roaming aggregators.
For operators that want to monetize their Wi-Fi networks beyond the offloading aspect, we offer a best-in-class Wi-Fi hotspot system with support for a wide array of business models, B2B services, and payment options. Adding an extra secure SSID for Wi-Fi offload in the operator’s B2B footprint is a cost-effective method of gaining indoor coverage for subscribers.
2. How to Get Devices to Select Wi-Fi and Authenticate
Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones with advanced operating systems such as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS will generally automatically try to move over from the cellular data connection to a Wi-Fi network as soon as it is in range. Typically they will also remember the Wi-Fi networks to which they’ve been connected and automatically try to reconnect. The network selection mechanisms are further improved with Passpoint (Hotspot 2.0) capable Wi-Fi networks supporting the 802.11u standard. This provides a seamless selection of Wi-Fi offload networks, e.g., Wi-Fi networks participating in the OpenRoaming consortium. The same automatic login to the operator’s Wi-Fi network can be achieved using EAP-based authentication on a secure SSID supporting 802.1x.
Mobile operators can use connection managers to provide a more intelligent Wi-Fi offload experience where policies decide where and when offloading from cellular to Wi-Fi and vice versa should occur. The policies to control this mechanism – defined in the 3GPP standards – are handled by the Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF), which communicates policy decisions to the connection manager. The ANDSF can retrieve policy decisions from the Policy Charging and Rules Function (PCRF). Since this standard has not been widely deployed, many proprietary and semi-proprietary solutions are on the market from different client vendors. The flexibility in the Enea Aptilo SMP to define new logic and add new interfaces makes it ideal for intelligent Wi-Fi offload.
Once the device has selected the Wi-Fi network, the subscriber must be authenticated to be admitted to the network. The authentication must be as seamless as possible to maximize the business case for offloading. The best way to obtain an automatic and seamless user authentication to the Wi-Fi offload network is to utilize EAP/SIM-AKA authentication. This SIM-based authentication also adds another layer of security (requiring support for 802.1x), making the Wi-Fi network as secure as the cellular network. However, supporting several alternative authentication methods is essential because not all devices can handle EAP/SIM-AKA. Thanks to our deep experience in the Wi-Fi market, Enea Aptilo SMP supports a multitude of authentication methods, including SIM authentication. Learn more in our authentication methods for Wi-Fi offload section.
3. How to interact with the mobile core for policies and charging
Whether you have decided to backhaul traffic to the mobile core or are planning to do a local breakout to the Internet, our Wi-Fi offload solution is there to help you control the user experience and monetize Wi-Fi investments. Learn more about our solution for policy and charging in Wi-Fi offload.
Choose the Most Deployed Wi-Fi Offload Solution
Enea Aptilo Service Management Platform (SMP) is the world’s most deployed system to manage traffic offload to Wi-Fi. We are known worldwide as the leading authority on Wi-Fi offload. We are proud to have been honored by industry experts as the winner of many awards for our innovative Wi-Fi Offload solution. Our vendor-agnostic solution, with specific support for all leading vendors, allows you to pick and choose the best-of-breed Wi-Fi access points and gateways.
Take a Deeper Dive into Wi-Fi Offloading
People from all over the world will flock to Brazil to celebrate the World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The ability to offload mobile data to Wi-Fi will ease network congestion significantly and increase data speeds, for an exceptional user experience.Rafael Marques
Marketing Director at TIM Intelig