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Mobile & WiFi: Now is the time for convergence
Mobile communications have, over the past decade, changed people’s lives.
The way in which we work, play and do everything in between has been revolutionised by the advent and subsequent rise of the mobile internet.
The growth has occurred in stages, or generations – each one bringing more speed and better accessibility than the last. As we move closer towards 5G, though, the industry needs to think carefully about what roles LTE and WiFi should play.
Consumer focus across the board
In attempts to satisfy its ever-expecting audience, the mobile industry has long been consumer-focused. It has made big promises from one generation to the next, and has delivered on every single one – from on-the-go calls, through basic internet access, to rich, multimedia experiences powered by 4G.
The same is true for WiFi. The industry has made it possible for us all to benefit from wireless internet access on laptops, phones, TVs and games consoles and so many other devices. Again, it gets faster and more reliable with every new generation.
If you isolate them, we’re clearly on the right paths with both WiFi and cellular connectivity, but why hasn’t more been done to bring them closer together? These two technologies shouldn’t be seen as alternatives – they are complementary and should work hand in hand.
Where did it all go wrong?
The approach we’ve taken up until this point can be explained. Every new generation – whether cellular or WiFi – is shaped by consumer demand; the industry focuses on providing what it thinks the audience wants most. The priorities have always been coverage and then capacity.
Take LTE as an example. Once the standards were approved and spectrum had been auctioned, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) started work on delivering coverage to rapidly deploy a commercially viable footprint. The next step was to start introducing capacity-enhancing features to capitalise on the initial investment – mobile data speeds went up to record levels. The cycle starts over when it’s time for the next generation.
We’ve hit a wall, though, and the constant push on speed and coverage is no longer enough as consumers’ needs have grown. They are demanding more from their connectivity as we move towards 5G. They want to experience all of the superfast services they’ve been used to but don’t want these services to be interrupted whilst they’re moving out and about or around their homes and offices. They want to be able to hold a call or access their favourite apps whilst transitioning between cellular and WiFi coverage in a seamless fashion. They demand service continuity.
New consumer expectations – Service continuity
At this point, it’s important to understand why a fresh approach is needed – why is service continuity top of the consumer priority list?
Right now we’re in the age of 4G which, although it provides faster speeds than its predecessor, doesn’t address the majority of users’ biggest gripes. 3G still has such a huge share of the market because MNOs have found it difficult to highlight the tangible benefits to a world of people who, above everything else, just want affordability, reliability, and no service interruptions. A 4G connection could reach 5Gbps, but a user’s Skype call will still drop out whenever they move back into a familiar WiFi zone and out of cellular coverage, and YouTube videos would still buffer as soon as they do the opposite. The fact that, in their current state, these two technologies exist in separate worlds negatively impacts the consumer experience – 5G will mean very little to anyone unless that changes.
Are we ready?
It’s been some time since the spotlight was last placed on service continuity; ten years, in fact. Now, though, the technologies necessary to deliver seamless handovers across mobile macro and small cells and WiFi are starting to crop up. Just a few examples are: Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF), LTE WiFi Aggregation (LWA) and Small Cells Dual-Connectivity. With these in existence, and more on the way, now is the time for MNOs to focus on bringing everything together. Such a change would surely come to the soundtrack of inevitable cheers from mobile users the world over.