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LTE and Wi-Fi Convergence: Leveraging Both to Meet Capacity Demand

Something very significant is happening in the mobile world as licensed band technology starts to converge with Wi-Fi®. This convergence will create new opportunities for the entire mobile ecosystem, both in the user equipment (UE) and infrastructure worlds. But, it will also create some controversial and interesting discontinuities. In this and future posts, I will be exploring this topic and providing insights into Qualcomm’s role in shaping what is turning out to be an important new way of thinking about “the network.”

The wide introduction of LTE networks (3GPP’s IP-centric data standard) is transforming the user experience across the globe for the better. Now, as the market shifts to data consumption as the primary use case for the majority of LTE-enabled user experiences, nomadic consumption—at the office, at home or in coffee shops, hospitality venues and sporting events—is dominating aggregate licensed mobile traffic. This is the same model that dominates Wi-Fi usage, so the use cases for both technologies are already converged in a very real sense.

This insatiable thirst for capacity indoors is what is creating the huge opportunity for small cells. The economics strongly favor the move to Small Cells, but they need to be installed easily without expensive network planning, which means this: the future of cellular infrastructure needs to look a lot like Wi-Fi.

What’s interesting is what happens when you start to densely deploy LTE indoors where Wi-Fi networks are also needed. In most cases, we see Wi-Fi included in indoor Small Cell access points. This seems to imply that OEMs believe they need an infrastructure that converges the networks with capability to support both Wi-Fi and 3G/LTE concurrently.

So, one of the first consequences of convergence is that wireless infrastructure companies need to master something new. In the case of traditional licensed band companies, they need to get their hands around Wi-Fi, while traditional enterprise-class Wi-Fi vendors need to learn about the licensed band universe.

This is not a pure technology learning curve, because these two worlds also have very different DNA on deployment, system integration, packet core integration, key performance indicators, maintenance and service, and perhaps most importantly, sales and marketing channels.

The upshot for consumers, however, will be more and more networks that can serve up content the way they want it—lots of capacity and throughput on whatever PHY can get them the best experience. You can even imagine a future where LTE and Wi-Fi get even closer together. In future posts, I will explore all these topics in more detail and talk about Qualcomm’s initiative to support the operation of LTE in unlicensed spectrum.

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