We’ve presented at the two most recent Wi-Fi NOW conferences (in Washington DC a few weeks ago and just last week in Cape Town, South Africa).  Our sessions titled “A New Platform for Wi-Fi and Cellular” were well attended, and we weren’t surprised given the overall interest in bandwidth aggregation, network convergence and wireless access management that were pervasive throughout the conference.  The audiences at both events were quite diverse, coming from very different parts of the world with different customer bases and infrastructure realities, but one thing remained the same: users want and need to be connected, and making sure the capacity and quality of the networks can handle that flow will be key to keeping them happy.

Connectivity is becoming a basic human need, and Craig Moffett, partner and senior analyst at MoffettNathanson and one of the leading researchers in the U.S. telecom, cable and satellite space put it bluntly: if Maslow were alive today, his hierarchy of basic human needs would be very different.   The industry is racing to fulfill this need by rolling out 5G.  Wireless networks will become denser and denser, cell sites will have smaller radii, and each will be underpinned with a wired backhaul connection.  Wireless networks will begin to look more and more like wired networks – and wired networks will look more like wireless ones.

As the industry sees this distinction between wired and wireless networks begin to disappear, the quality of the networks on both cellular and Wi-Fi were a constant topic of conversation at the conference.  Analytics, gapless handover between networks and bandwidth aggregation are needed more than ever as customers spend more time on their mobile devices, using data-intensive apps like video streaming, augmented reality and connected car technologies.  Currently, half of all Internet traffic is carried on Wi-Fi, but we’re also seeing a greater blurring of the lines between being at the home or office and being on the road, and users want a seamless transition when they’re using voice and data on the move. 

While the consumer appetite for doing more connected things in there, the mobile industry as a whole needs to bring the capability to go broader, faster and more reliably, and we need to meet that need soon: 

By the year 2021:

  • 20 Billion Wi-Fi-connected devices will be in use
  • 4 Billion Wi-Fi connected devices will ship per year (currently there are 3 Billion shipped)
  • 466 Million smart home systems and products will be in use
  • 63% of all cellular and mobile traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi
  • Half a Billion (541.6 million) public Wi-Fi-venues will be available to users
  • 5G will likely be limited to urban markets, and therefore a lot less of the population than we might think

Connected cars are one of the hottest and most exciting areas for the industry, with a projected 236 million Wi-Fi connected cars on the road by 2021 communicating in the cabin, to maintenance, to tolls, smart parking systems and more.  It also won’t be long before the connected home is a mission-critical environment.  But we ask ourselves “what if the home’s Wi-Fi goes down?”  All of these products and services will need a seamless backup and transition to cellular when the need arises.  For our increasingly connected world to all work as expected and needed, it all must be powered and connected seamlessly, securely, continuously AND inexpensively.

At Carnegie, we see a lot of mobile operators expressing serious interest in Wi-Fi now more than ever.   Where “Wi-Fi First” may have been a projected goal for many operators, now it’s become a very successful reality, and in many cases a business necessity.  While it used to be rough around the edges, new technology solutions, such as Carnegie’s, have proven to smooth those out.   With deployments across the globe, we now have the understanding and experience to know which Wi-Fi business models will work and which don’t, what users will accept and not accept, and what makes for the most efficient and most successful implementations.   The successful Wi-Fi First operators are growing mainly because of customer referrals, despite drastically smaller marketing, advertising and technology budgets.  When customers are happy, they tell their friends.  Wi-Fi is proving to be about three-times faster than cell speeds today, and the gap will likely widen, resulting in better voice experience and faster data speeds over Wi-Fi.   These Wi-Fi First operators deliver better coverage indoors, even reaching into basements, attics and those commercial building black-holes we’ve all experienced, along with lower prices as traffic is offloaded.  Being able to charge half the industry average for monthly service, it’s easy to see how these business models are disrupting the industry.

The above truths and predictions were pervasive at both events.  But what we discovered in Cape Town specifically is that the needs in Africa are unique because of bandwidth limitations.  We see Bandwidth Aggregation being an even bigger need in these markets as they’re limited to ADSL and 4G connections.  While ADSL is being replaced by fiber in established areas, rural areas still rely on Wi-Fi (be it patchy) and 3G/4G connections.  Data bundles continue to come down in price, which makes mobile data a reality for more people, and Wi-Fi is being made available for free to people living in rural areas.  Carnegie has a great opportunity to improve the end user experiences here and provide more bandwidth when switching between and aggregating over Wi-Fi and mobile data.  When you can offload that traffic to more ubiquitous access, now you can service your customers as they expect and need.

The next great leap in Wi-Fi technology is 802.11 ax and 5G (HetNet model with multi-layers of connectivity including, 5G, etc.).    Carnegie is well positioned for this leap as our technology helps carriers aggregate voice and data across all different network types, maintaining gapless handover of connectivity as the user moves from one to another. 

As the conferences wrapped up, there was a consensus that as the role of Wi-Fi in our daily lives continues to grow, more unlicensed spectrum is needed.  Amazingly, there hasn’t been an increase in 16 years.   One study showed that data volume will exceed spectrum capacity by 2020, if none is added, and there was a sense of urgency for the industry as a whole to advocate for more.   

While some of the industry’s future remains an unknown, at least one wish can be answered today:  the reality of true bandwidth aggregation and ubiquitous, gapless roaming between various networks and various network types in here already, and at Carnegie Technologies we’re proud to be the leader in delivering this vital component to our industry.