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  • Mark Middleton

Why Large-Scale Carrier Wi-Fi Networks Should Be Open Access

Although carrier driven Wi-Fi is just in its infancy, the Wi-Fi land grab is accelerating. Entire precincts will, over the company years, be entirely cloaked in Wi-Fi. This surge in footprint expansion is primarily driven by the desire of forward-thinking mobile network operators (MNOs), Internet service providers (ISPs), and cable companies (MSOs) to bundle Wi-Fi access in with existing subscriber plans.

The business drivers for providing Wi-Fi access are manyfold and range from it simply being a highly desired and complementary value added service that gives a competitive differentiation, to Wi-Fi offload being completely motivated by an MNO’s desire to offload mobile data traffic from 3G/4G networks to either reduce congestion, reduce core software licensing costs, or to provide a cheaper way for subscribers to download GBs of mobile data.

A recent press release from the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA) highlights a looming issue and a way forward. If all of these MNOs, ISPs and MSOs deploy Wi-Fi infrastructure in the same geographic location, there will be significant radiofrequency interference. This can lead to severe network degradation or failure and a waste of deployed capital. Therefore, as WAPA says:

“the most reliable and cost-effective way for multiple parties to provide Wi-Fi services in the same space, is to create a wholesale open access Wi-Fi network, for data provisioning and value-added services alike.”

A shared Wi-Fi infrastructure, operated by an independent 3rd party, can easily be made available at an open access wholesale level to multiple MNOs, ISPs and MSOs. These carriers then bundle Wi-Fi access for their subscribers however they see fit.

The benefits of this large-scale, open access wholesale model, include:

  1. Economic efficiencies resulting from shared infrastructure

  2. Reduced capex for the service providers

  3. Opex only model for service providers

  4. Reduced radiofrequency interference & improved quality of service

  5. Improved network performance

  6. Level playing field & ability to differentiate at the service level

The Acurix Networks strategic consultancy team has modelled the technical and financial economics of the open access Wi-Fi network business from the perspective of both the 3rd party infrastructure owner as well as the MNO or ISP. The results are revealing and point towards the economic efficiencies of shared infrastructure.

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