5G and Wifi leaders plan integration of networks for indoor

5G and Wifi leaders plan integration of networks for indoor coverage

03 September 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Future 5G networks could be integrated with private Wifi networks, following work by two major wireless organisations.

The benefit to 5G network operators will be that services could be extended into buildings and integrated with secure private networks that are built to the new Wifi 6 standard.

The two organisations behind this move are the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which represents the Wifi industry, and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance, which represents mobile network operators.

“Typically Wifi is much more cost efficient for indoor coverage,” Tiago Rodrigues (pictured), the WBA general manager, told Capacity, “especially for third-party owners of a property.”

Peter Meissner, CEO of the NGMN Alliance, said: “The work we’ve done with WBA to identify new use cases and challenges in the convergence of Wifi and 5G is beneficial for operators, vendors and end users. It is through initiatives like this one that our industry solves important issues and ensures the success of technologies for the future.”

Wifi-only devices – such as tablets and laptops as well as new terminals connected to the internet of things (IoT) – will be able to work in Wifi 6 networks.

Already one engineering company, Mettis Aerospace, is testing the technology with the WBA in what it calls “the world’s first Wifi 6 industrial enterprise and IoT trial” at a factory in the UK.

Dave Green, the head of IT at Mettis Aerospace, said: “Industrial manufacturers work in incredibly complex environments, which can make cellular technologies challenging to deploy and operate effectively. We believe that Wifi 6 has a significant role to play within the 5G ecosystem, enabling a range of, cost-effective, industrial applications.”

The WBA and NGMN have put their proposals together in a white paper, published today (PDF here), on the convergence of their two radio access networks (RANs). 

Its list of authors is significant: they are not only from operators BT, Orange, Rogers and US Cellular, but also from a range of equipment and chip vendors, Broadcom, Cisco, Huawei and Intel, and from Accuris Networks, a provider of carrier Wifi and software-as-a-service (SaaS) roaming hubs.

The two project co-leaders on the white paper were Kevin Holley, technology standards and ecosystems director at BT, and Nigel Bird, UK-based next-generation networks (NGN) standardisation manager at Orange.

“We’ll have different ways of integrating, depending on the strategy of the operator,” Rodrigues told Capacity. Hotspots – in shopping malls and convention centres – will be allow operators to use Wifi 6 opportunistically, he said. “The hotspots will give Wifi 6 the feel of cellular networks and make the user experience the same.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is managing the introduction of the Wifi 6 standard, said Rodrigues. “They’re on the final phase to ratification and the WBA will start certifying equipment.”

Already companies such as Cisco, Ruckus and Samsung have launched pre-certified equipment, and Intel will make chipsets for laptops and similar equipment. Equipment using earlier versions of Wifi will be able to work with Wifi 6 hubs, he noted.