Although asked in many different ways, questions about integration of mobile and Wi-Fi keep popping up from end-users, enterprises, service providers, and regulators. Mobile device users mostly ask about apps to avoid exceeding mobile data caps or the relative security of mobile vs. Wi-Fi networks. Enterprises want to know if they should consider adding small cells when upgrading access points for unified wireless communications or rather explore distributed antennae system (DAS) providers for in-building mobile coverage. Wire-line service providers building out public Wi-Fi are interested in monetizing mobile offload and ask, what's up with FMC, VoLTE, VoWi-Fi, and HD voice? Wireless spectrum regulators are concerned about for-profits "hijacking" Wi-Fi based free public Internet access but acknowledge the need to fund build-outs. And technology disruptor Google is exploring flying blimps with wirless gear over emerging nations to bring the next billion people online. Quite a few tough but interesting questions and issues for a wireless analyst to opine on!
I don’t have all the answers, but what does seem clear is a new architecture that can integrate mobile and Wi-Fi handoffs is emerging, and it promises rapid innovation. SDN allows for a separate, programmable control plane where device based mobile apps can communicate with Wi-Fi controllers and mobile cores to negotiate preferred modes of wireless access. Policy management provides smarts for the “who, what, where, when, and how” for wireless connectivity. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) will allow virtualized Wi-Fi controller and mobile core software instances running on standard data center hardware to interact seamlessly in the cloud. And new Wi-Fi standards like HotSpot 2.0 and PassPoint wireless device certification will provide bridges between Wi-Fi islands for a more mobile-like user experience. Converging mobile and Wi-Fi handoffs could then become a simple matter of user accounting and provider federation. It seems a relatively simple formula—or is it? Finding viable business models could take longer than developing and trialing converged wireless systems! Who do you think are the most likely start-ups or systems integrators to make it all happen?