This is an excerpt from our white paper Wi-Fi in the 5G Era – Strategy Guide for Operators. The full white paper is available here if you like what you read. Don’t hesitate to contact ENEA if you have any questions.
Business and technical consolidation trends all point in the same direction: Mobile and fixed networks are coming together – for the benefit of everyone in the industry and consumers.
5G introduces new network architectural concepts for Wi-Fi integration with the mobile core (non-3GPP access). In this post, we first explore the opportunities for mobile operators today and then the basic concepts of trusted and untrusted Wi-Fi access. In our next blog post about Wi-Fi and Cellular convergence, we will dive into what is new within 5G, introduced in 3GPP releases 15 and 16. After that blog post, we will cover the new Access Traffic Steering, Switching & Splitting (ATSSS) function, the ‘Holy Grail’ of mobile data offloading. Spoiler alert; ATSSS complexity and reliance on device support mean it will likely take years to come to market.
WI-FI AND CELLULAR CONVERGENCE – OPPORTUNITIES TODAY
While Wi-Fi and cellular are on a gradual path to technical convergence, there can be no question that corporate fixed-cellular convergence, aka consolidation, has already been happening for a long time. Some years ago, dominant mobile operators trended towards acquiring cable and fiber operations. More recently, fixed service providers and cablecos have either acquired mobile operators or have become MVNOs themselves.
All of this is seeding the ground for technology and services convergence in addition to the more apparent corporate consolidation.
But, as already discussed in one of our blog posts, if genuine technical Wi-Fi and mobile (5G) convergence are to happen, service providers also need to break free from conventional organizational ‘silos’ and compartmentalized thinking on what technologies do and do not belong to mobile and fixed wireless services, respectively.
We believe there is significant untapped business potential in breaking such operator ‘silos’ to achieve progress in service and technological convergence.
Some of these opportunities do not need significant infrastructure investments, nor do operators need to wait for new convergence (3GPP) standards or equipment to emerge.
Selective Wi-Fi Offload is the answerMobile network traffic data may indicate overcapacity. But that is often only true as a high-level average. There will always be some cell sites suffering from congestion and some only serving a handful of subscribers. Selective Wi-Fi offload is the answer: Build Wi-Fi capacity where it is needed most to make users happy (Churn zone) and always for indoor coverage.
If regulations allow it, mobile operators may even take the bold step to replace cellular with Wi-Fi at some locations (CAPEX overload zone).
Here is our suggested list of reasonably simple network changes that would create a ‘Wi-Fi offload’ service and hence a quick new source of revenue for operators:
By introducing the correct configurations and by provisioning devices correctly, such a scheme would create an additional layer of mobile network capacity using Wi-Fi. But this would also require that mobile and fixed parts of the operator organization collaborate.
Let’s now look into how to integrate Wi-Fi with the mobile core. The 3GPP standard offers two main strategies to integrate Wi-Fi networks with the mobile core: Trusted and untrusted non-3GPP (Wi-Fi) access.
UNTRUSTED NON-3GPP (WI-FI) ACCESS
Untrusted non-3GPP (Wi-Fi) access was first introduced in the Wi-Fi specification in 3GPP Release 6 (2005). At that time, Wi-Fi access points featuring advanced security features were rare. Hence Wi-Fi was considered open and unsecured by default. Untrusted access includes any Wi-Fi access that the operator has no control over, such as public hotspots, subscribers’ home Wi-Fi, and corporate Wi-Fi. It also consists of Wi-Fi that does not provide sufficient security mechanisms such as authentication and radio link encryption.
The fact that untrusted non-3GPP access works over any Wi-Fi network is the reason that it is the method of choice for Wi-Fi Calling.
The untrusted model requires no changes to the Wi-Fi network but impacts the device side because it needs an IPsec client to reside on the device. The device is connected through a secure IPsec tunnel directly to an IPsec Terminating Gateway in the Mobile Core, which is connected through an encrypted tunnel to the Packet Gateway. The Packet Gateway is used for both cellular and Wi-Fi traffic.
This integration on the core network side also means that Wi-Fi service management platforms, such as the Aptilo Service Management Platform™ (SMP), must interface with mobile core network HLR/HSS/AMF for SIM Authentication (EAP-SIM/AKA/AKA’ or 5G-AKA). This provides the same level of authentication security as in the cellular network. It may also be required to interface with mobile core network policy functions. In addition to authentication of the device, the SIM authentication process produces cryptographic keys used for IPsec tunnel establishment.
TRUSTED NON-3GPP (WI-FI) ACCESS
Trusted non-3GPP (Wi-Fi) access was first introduced with the LTE standard in 3GPP Release 8 (2008). Trusted access is often assumed to be operator-built Wi-Fi access with encryption (enabled by 802.1x) in the Wi-Fi radio access network (RAN) and a secure authentication method (EAP). However, it is always up to the home operator to decide what is considered trusted.
In the case of trusted access, the device (UE) is connected through a Wireless Access Gateway in the Wi-Fi core. This Wireless Access Gateway is connected through a secure tunnel directly with the Packet Gateway, also used for cellular traffic in the Mobile Core.
SIM Authentication is also essential for trusted non-3GPP access. In addition to authentication of the device, it produces cryptographic keys used for encryption in the secure Wi-Fi network (802.1x).
This is an excerpt from our white paper Wi-Fi in the 5G Era – Strategy Guide for Operators. The full white paper is available here if you like what you read. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
OFFLOAD TRAFFIC WILL ONLY INCREASE
Rapid evolution and availability of new technology and new spectrum are making carrier Wi-Fi inevitable as a strategic technology of choice for service providers everywhere. The idea that Wi-Fi is the dominant indoor wireless technology is not new. But we believe that Wi-Fi’s dominance will be even more pronounced in the 5G era.
It is well known that device data consumption continues to rise particularly as the result of the increased popular demand for video streaming and – more recently perhaps – the explosive demand for collaborative work applications, such as video conferencing. More than this, research suggests (see figure) that the need for mobile networks to ‘offload’ traffic to Wi-Fi will substantially increase in the 5G era.
In some countries – such as the UK, Japan, and Germany – ‘Wi-Fi offload’ percentages (meaning the percentage of smartphone traffic delivered over Wi-Fi networks of any kind) are already well above 80%. In connection with the US decision to allocate all of the 6 GHz band to Wi-Fi, the FCC cited the need for offload from 5G networks as an important contributing factor in their decision.
Most analysts believe Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E technology will be ramped up quickly and indeed faster than previous generations of Wi-Fi, specifically because work-from-home connectivity today is business critical for ISPs and consumers. Such factors will continue to play important roles as drivers of renewed connectivity demand as will the continued growth in number of devices in the home as well as data consumption.
The next phase in the ramp-up and deployment of new Wi-Fi technology will then be enterprise and carrier-grade APs and supporting systems. This evolution will happen a little later but also in parallel with the mass-market deployment of home Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E gateways and systems.
In general, the IEEE 802.11 standardization working group is now aiming for a Wi-Fi technology renewal cycle of five years, which means full market penetration of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E into the enterprise and service provider Wi-Fi markets will sharply rise and come to completion around 2025-26.
Meanwhile it is critical to understand that the availability of pristine new unlicensed spectrum has made the case for carrier Wi-Fi hugely more compelling. Have a look – for example – at the graphic picturing the total licensed spectrum holdings for mobile operators. The analysis uses the UK as an example.
The most amount of licensed spectrum is held by BT and totals 295 MHz while H3G is in second place totaling 229.5 MHz. None of the UK’s mobile operators hold more than 300 MHz of total licensed spectrum – and most hold much less.
The UK recently released 500 MHz of pristine – meaning unused by legacy Wi-Fi – unlicensed spectrum in the lower 6 GHz band. That slice of Wi-Fi spectrum alone is around double the amount of licensed band that most UK mobile operators hold at this time. Add to this the existing 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi bands – and we contend that it is becoming increasingly difficult for operators to reject the strategic use of carrier Wi-Fi services. Mobile and fixed operators need to embrace carrier Wi-Fi today to stay competitive.
In countries where the full 1.2 GHz of 6 GHz spectrum (up to 7.2 GHz) has been released – including the US, Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the Republic of Chile thus far – the situation is even more extreme. The total amount of unlicensed spectrum available (some of it available for outdoor use as well) could be up to 10 times as much as the licensed spectrum holdings of a single mobile operator.
This is an excerpt from our white paper Hyperscale Cellular IoT. If you like what you read, the full white paper is available here. Don’t hesitate to contact Enea if you have any questions. Download white paper here.
In the Hyperscale Cellular IoT white paper, we focus entirely on cellular IoT connectivity. Although cellular IoT will only stand for 22% of all connections at the end of 2026, around 5,9 billion devices will be connected through cellular networks!
The vast majority of IoT connections will be short-range devices using radio technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-wave, and Zigbee. But, just like most radio technologies for IoT, cellular connectivity will have rapid growth.
Each technology has its own use case. Cellular is the technology of choice for devices requiring mobility. Short-range technologies such as Wi-Fi are mainly for indoor connectivity. The Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), including the cellular NB-IoT and technologies such as LoRa, are focused on battery-powered devices with a battery life of up to 10 years.
MANAGEMENT IS KEY FOR IOT
Cellular is the only technology that enables global central management by using the mobile operator’s existing roaming portfolio, typically in 200 or more countries. However, as discussed in our white paper, there are markets where permanent roaming is not a viable option (regulations and/or commercial reasons).
A CLOSER LOOK AT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CELLULAR IOT
Today, many IoT applications are using the existing 4G (LTE) broadband, which has been improved for IoT. In the last few years, 3GPP has created new standards to better support specific use cases. The largest volume of new IoT devices will come in the Massive IoT area designed to support low-cost wearables, sensors, and meters over long distances. 5G provides the ability to support Critical IoT use cases for real-time mission-critical applications such as connected cars and remote surgery.
The Massive IoT market segment includes devices that are widely used in our society, mainly different sensors and meters. The NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies are the dominant technologies for Massive IoT. Compared to 4G, they are designed to deliver extreme coverage with much smaller data volumes and mainly periodical transfer of data. This means a battery life of up to 10 years which is ideal for low-cost devices such as smart meters.
NB-IoT is useful for simpler devices that don’t require connected mobility and tolerate low data rates in tens of Kbps and high latency of up to 10 seconds.
For tracking devices where connected mobility is crucial, CAT-M is a better choice. Cat-M also offers support for voice, higher data speeds of up to 1 Mbps and lower latency (100-150 ms).
According to the Ericsson Mobility report November 2020, massive IoT (NB-IoT and Cat-M) will have an explosive growth going from almost 200 million connected devices in 2020 to approximately 2.6 billion or 45% of all cellular IoT connections by the end of 2026. At the same time, the total number of cellular IoT devices will be approximately 5.9 billion and 44 percent of those will use broadband IoT and Critical IoT (first devices expected in 2021), with 4G connecting most devices.
The non-cellular long range technology low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) will, according to the same report, go from 200 million to 400 million between 2020-2026.
Stockholm, Sweden, March 21, 2022: Enea today announced that its Wi-Fi Service Management Platform (SMP) was deployed by Batelco to seamlessly connect visitors at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC). The BIC has a capacity of over 70,000, and the Enea Aptilo Wi-Fi SMP authenticated and connected Batelco’s customers automatically, and subscribers from other networks via a dedicated portal, during the Grand Prix event.
The BIC is part of Batelco’s ‘Bahrain Wi-Fi’ service, the Kingdom’s WiFi digital network. For over ten years the operator has used Enea’s solution to connect subscribers in hotspots nationwide.
“Enea is a valuable partner, and we share a common ethos,” said Batelco General Manager Enterprise Abdulla Danesh. “When we launched our service for people in the Kingdom to benefit from a uniform, island wide network – we relied on Enea’s technology. They have helped us deliver secure and reliable connectivity not only for our subscribers but for all people in Bahrain and visitors to the country.”
Enea’s Wi-Fi SMP not only provides secure connectivity, but also enables communication service providers (CSPs) to secure revenue streams with their Wi-Fi service. The technology has been deployed by over 100 CSPs in 75 countries and has a subscriber footprint of over 250 million.
“Our expertise supported Batelco’s delivery of Wi-Fi on one of the most important days in the sporting calendar,” said Jonas Jacobsson, Senior Vice President of Service Provider Sales at Enea. “Wi-Fi is a critical component of any sporting event adding the extra dimension on connecting fans to the action.”
Chevaan Seresinhe, Sonus PR for Enea
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: +44 797 1967 644 Stephanie Huf, Enea Chief Marketing Officer
E-mail: [email protected]
Enea is one of the world’s leading specialists in software for telecommunications and cybersecurity. The company’s cloud-native products are used to enable and protect services for mobile subscribers, enterprise customers, and connected devices. More than 4.5 billion people rely on Enea technologies in their daily lives.
Enea is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and is listed on Nasdaq Stockholm.
For more information: www.enea.com