Study: Wi-Fi more cost-effective than small cells

Date: May 21, 2013

Per-bit total cost of ownership of Wi-Fi hotspots is about half that of small cells for LTE and 10 percent of 3G small cells, according to a new report developed by Senza Fili Consulting and commissioned by Wi-Fi Alliance.

Further, current 802.11n equipment and the 802.11ac equipment entering the market this year both outperform LTE and LTE-Advanced on per-bit TCO. “When a combined Wi-Fi/cellular solution is deployed in a single location, per-bit TCO is dramatically reduced,” said the report.

“Even though the Wi-Fi story is very favorable by itself, the good news for operators is that even for operators that are already invested in 3G and 4G deployments, adding Wi-Fi to those deployments brings down the total cost of ownership for those sites,” Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa told FierceBroadbandWireless. “The Wi-Fi and small cell option is always a winner and it’s never too late to add it, so that should resonate well with operators.”

A study released earlier this year by mobile analytics vendor Mobidia Technology and analyst firm Informa showed that smartphone users rely on Wi-Fi for their primary data connection but rarely turn to managed, public hotspots, favoring instead private or unmanaged, self-provisioned public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The industry acknowledges that issue but sees it as an opportunity, said Figueroa, noting, “There are operators that have figured out how to pair devices to their networks so those devices have a tendency to connect to their Wi-Fi footprint,” he said.

“We are just starting the era of Passpoint, which lets users automatically connect to their operator’s Wi-Fi network,” said Figueroa. “There are going to be massive blankets of Wi-Fi offered by network operators, and they will have advanced capabilities to offer seamless and protected access.”

The Senza Fili report cautions operators about their Wi-Fi approaches, saying, “Deploying carrier Wi-Fi requires a deeper commitment from mobile operators than most of today’s Wi-Fi hotspots. The performance and functionality requirements are more stringent–closer to those for 3G or 4G small cells than to a coffee-shop hotspot.”

In a separate report, Infonetics predicts the global carrier Wi-Fi equipment market will top $3.9 billion by 2017, primarily driven by mobile operators deploying carrier Wi-Fi for data offload. Dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi access points began shipping last year and should show significant growth as mobile operators build out carrier Wi-Fi networks. Infonetics said Asia Pacific will be the strongest growth driver through 2017.

Operators used to fear that Wi-Fi would cannibalize their opportunity to derive data revenues. Yet they are now embracing Wi-Fi and engaging in a land grab, claiming prime small cell locations by deploying carrier Wi-Fi now with plans to later replace that equipment with dual-mode 3G/Wi-Fi and LTE/Wi-Fi small cells, said Infonetics.

The firm noted that Cisco led carrier Wi-Fi revenue share in 2012, followed by Ruckus Wireless and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC).

Meanwhile, another report from Ubiquiti Networks addressed the availability of Wi-Fi from the standpoint of mobile workers. More than three quarters of those surveyed said Wi-Fi availability influences which hotels, restaurants and other businesses they choose to conduct business.

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