Feasibility study focuses on 5G and Wi-Fi convergence for enterprises

As 5G networks continue to be developed, companies in multiple sectors are looking for ways to better integrate it with Wi-Fi systems.

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5G networks are more than well on their way to becoming a reality in our everyday lives. Some of the biggest companies involved with both 5G and Wi-Fi networks worked with the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) to study just how cities and companies can better integrate the two for future internet usage.
 
Using data and input from mobile carriers, telecom equipment manufacturers and Wi-Fi advocates, the WBA and NGMN Joint Task Force created the RAN Convergence White Paper, which offers a detailed look at the many ways society can create a seamless internet ecosystem. 
 
"Mobile and Wi-Fi operators, equipment manufacturers and end users all stand to benefit a great deal from the continued convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, especially with the release of Wi-Fi 6 later this year and the continued development of 5G networks," said Tiago Rodrigues, general manager of the WBA.
 
"As the paper highlights, convergence of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 in the RAN is vital for 5G coverage in dense locations and indoor deployments, giving stakeholders the ability to cost effectively improve performance, while ultimately improving return on investment (ROI) for mobile operators," Rodrigues said.
 
SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

The study shows that it will soon become incumbent upon Wi-Fi providers and 5G companies to coordinate on how to mesh the two. There is even a section of the study dedicated to what cities, states and countries across the world can do to make the move between 5G and Wi-Fi even easier for the average person.
 
In the paper, the WBA and NGMN say Wi-Fi providers and mobile operators should join forces to provide wireless access to employees, contractors and visitors. More and more companies are using machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, advanced analytics and automation into their processes. 
 
The best way for these systems to work properly is by having integrated networks that allow devices to use both 5G and Wi-Fi without providing identity credentials. They provide a number of different test cases and ideas for how systems can be integrated, even mentioning that Wi-Fi providers and data networks could benefit monetarily from getting involved in each other's business.
 
Such an interface could enable the business model for cellular operators to provide Wi-Fi network management solutions for small and medium businesses. It could also enable enterprise Wi-Fi networks to request access to operator-provided 5G services or 5G network slices, for certain enterprise users and/or applications as a means to provide differentiated services," according to the study.
 

"Wi-Fi operators could also provide better user experience through a standardized solution providing improved visibility and transition management in the operation of overlapping cellular and Wi-Fi networks," according to the study.
 
A partnership between Wi-Fi providers and 5G companies would also help enterprises and cities create contiguous Wi-Fi access through the use of public hotspots. If anything, the study shows that it is probably inevitable that 5G networks and Wi-Fi systems integrate more as the demand for constant, uninterrupted internet increases. 
 
Combined cellular and Wi-Fi networks would "provide cost-effective solutions that meet diverse sets of requirements on throughput, latency, connection density, coverage, availability and reliability," according to the report.
 
"The work we've done with WBA to identify new use cases and challenges in the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G is beneficial for operators, vendors and end users," said NGMN Alliance CEO Peter Meissner. 
 
"It is through initiatives like this one that our industry solves important issues and ensures the success of technologies for the future," Meissner said.
 
For the study, the WBA and NGMN spoke with top 38 mobile operators around the world including BT, Orange, Rogers and US Cellular as well as telecoms such as Intel, Broadcom, Cisco, Accuris Networks and Huawei.

One of the reasons the report was created was to spur awareness about the need for better integration, Rodrigues said.

"We can already see today several operators utilizing full convergence of Wi-Fi has one more RAN technology, example of KT and SK Telecom in Korea. A flagship example, in US several all mobile carriers already use Wi-Fi and Passpoint," he said.
 
"NGH technologies augment coverage and capacity, for example on airports, conventions centers, sports stadiums, among others. During the next few months the proposed interfaces are planned to move to proof of concept, and there is broad industry support in implementing the proposed path and resolving the remainder gaps," he said.
 
He highlighted cities like San Francisco and San Jose that were replicating Barcelona's success with Wi-Fi/5G integration and said many of the biggest companies are already making efforts to provide seamless access to both Wi-Fi and 5G. 
 
"The 5G era builds on providing to the consumers an improved experience in terms of speed, number of devices connected, low latency. And Wi-Fi (in particular Wi-Fi 6) can provide all these capabilities easily for indoors and very high dense locations," he said. 
 
"This generates a new wave of collaboration between the wireless ecosystem, involving carriers, enterprises, cities and other venue owners. As a result, a pragmatic use case approach is being pivoted as the rationale to make the best business decisions when investing in technology deployment."

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