Wi-Fi can 'partner' with LTE
Cape Town - Wi-Fi can provide a faster, cheaper wireless network than current technology and is even better when used in conjunction with evolving networks, an industry player has said.
"LTE and Wi-Fi are not competitive technologies. The two are technologies that can happily co-exist. If you look at the model that KDDI did in Japan; they're using their WiMax for backhaul," Michael Fletcher, sales manager of Ruckus Wireless told News24.
The company manufactures Wi-Fi networks and have been in negotiations with mobile operators to use Wi-Fi for extra capacity in their networks.
"We've got a side of the business that focuses on the carrier market to using Wi-Fi to augment their current GSM networks," Fletcher said.
Wi-Fi is traditionally associated with short-range networks and is usually deployed in hotels, shopping malls or office parks, sometimes at no cost to users.
The growth of data-hungry smartphones has placed demand on wireless networks and cities like Seoul, Hong Kong and Vienna are in the process of rolling out public Wi-Fi networks.
"We're talking speeds of 600 megabits per second [mbps] to the base station using Wi-Fi. And the new stuff that's coming? In marketing speak, we're calling it Gigabit Wi-Fi which is essentially 900mbps," said Fletcher.
Wi-Fi operates at a high frequency that does not require licensing, but this usually makes it unsuitable for long-distance communications as required by mobile operators.
"So Wi-Fi can do those things, but because it's been in ISM band, people have shunned it. But what KDDI did in Japan which is now by far the largest outdoor network in Wi-Fi with 110 000 access points and 10 000 hot zones, suddenly people are going 'Okay, wow this works,'" Fletcher said.
Fletcher speculated that for a city like Cape Town or Johannesburg, about 45 wireless points would be required for every square kilometre to provide universal coverage.
In South Africa, cheaper smartphones can potentially stimulate huge data demand and operators are moving to building LTE networks to meet the expected demand.
Fletcher warned that operators were too focussed on one technology which may not be cost-effective.
"Two years ago if we went to carrier and said: 'We'd like you to use Wi-Fi as a data offload,' they probably would have laughed at you.
"Now... we are able to provide carrier grade Wi-Fi. We're seeing this happen in Europe and we're seeing this happen in the UK, and we're talking to carriers here to try and replicate the same technology."
Competing technologies have cast a shadow over the rush to implement LTE, or Long Term Evolution, widely regarded as the next generation of mobile broadband networks.
"The cellular industry has been starting to pump a lot of marketing activity regarding LTE and the reality is that LTE will take 5+ years to develop; commercialise in the world, similar to how long it took 3G, how long it took all the technology to happen.
"My perspective, what we see as the real need for Africa, is not WiMax, LTE, or any of these technology buzzwords. You need to get affordable broadband into the countries," Dr Mohammad Shakouri, vice president of Alvarion in the WiMax Forum told News24 on the sidelines of the AfricaCom telecommunications conference in Cape Town.
Ruckus has plans to rollout localised models of access points where users can access VoIP (Voice over internet protocol) phone calls, similar to the Skype service.
Fletcher argued that Wi-Fi was a cheaper alternative, particularly in rural areas.
"With Wi-Fi, you can deploy a single access point. You can go into an area of 20 people; you can bang a single access point on a roof and it's relatively inexpensive - I'm not going to say cheap - we're talking hundreds of dollars, not hundreds of thousands of dollars."
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