Industry group pushes Wi-Fi/cellular convergence -

Industry group pushes Wi-Fi/cellular convergence

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has made the strongest of calls to date for the cellular and Wi-Fi sectors to work together so that that the two technologies converge as fast and as extensively as possible.

In a report published on January 26, the Alliance makes numerous recommendations that follows months of trials conducted mostly by Intel, Broadcom, Cisco and network operator Orange, as well as the WBA’s 5G Working Group.

The “blueprint” stresses that by collaborating and pooling resources, the two technologies could offer consumers and enterprises “almost limitless potential” in a number of diverse sectors.

Tiago Rodrigues

According to Tiago Rodrigues, the WBA’s chief executive, such convergence between 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and, further down the line Wi-Fi 6E “is a win-win scenario for end users, cellular and Wi-Fi players.”

But he cautions that “convergence is critical for all parties if we are to truly capitalize on the potential this technology has to offer.”

He suggests sectors that could benefit most include:  Industry 4.0– for optimal operation in factories with the potential to deploy both 5GNR and Wi-Fi; residential connectivity via a mix of access traffic options; connected smart cities; and Wi-Fi only devices.

The report, claimed to provide a path forward for regulators and industry bodies, investigates technologies that enable end-user 5G services over Wi-Fi access.

It highlights numerous critical ‘action areas’ to enable quality-of-service (QoS) differentiation for 5G flows over Wi-Fi access, and identifies five “distinctive” and key areas: convergence architectures;  multi-access functionality for access traffic steering,  switching and splitting; end-to-end QoS;  policy interworking and enhancements across Wi-Fi and 5G;  and support for Wi-Fi only devices without SIM capabilities.

As regards the first of these, potential convergence architecture enhancements, these are said to include tighter coupling between Wi-Fi access and the 5G gateway function for trusted WLAN.

To enable end-to-end QoS, the report emphasizes the importance of providing differentiation within WLAN for 5G flows and analyses the issues associated with mapping 5G QoS to Wi-Fi QoS.

The last action area is an interesting one, focusing on the need to define non-SIM authentication methods over Wi-Fi access for private 5G networks.

Recently the WBA started work in this area and approved work items on 5G-Wi-Fi RAN convergence for such networks, with studies due to start soon.

Other convergence considerations are also under active development, the WBA says, by regulators and various standards bodies, including the 3GPP and IEEE. The aim is to bridge the gap with standards bodies working on the development of protocols for mobile communications.

This is a theme taken up by Howard Watson, Chief Technology and Information Officer at BT. Commenting on the report, he said: “With advances in convergence, the dividing lines are beginning to blur, and that’s great news. Customers can increasingly focus on what they use their connectivity for, rather than how it is delivered. End-users and the industry at large stand to gain massively from convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G, but only if we, as operators, infrastructure and device vendors, act together to fully define and deliver these new converged solutions.”

Meanwhile, Gabe Desjardins, director of product marketing at Broadcom, chimed in on behalf of the component suppliers, noting that “the ubiquity of Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi only devices….provides a low cost coverage option for the delivery of standalone 5G services. This is particularly true for indoor environments where Wi-Fi is the access technology of choice that can support new and emerging use cases such as mobile broadband access, AR/VR experiences, industrial IoT, distance learning, telepresence, to mention just a few.

“The seamless and secure integration of Wi-Fi access technology in 5G systems is a game changer for operators, over the top providers and their customers alike.”

The WBA said it is conducting ‘liaison activities’ in conjunction with the report to “further facilitate action during the first half of the year.”

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times.

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