Trends and Predictions: Looking into the Future of Wireless


As we move ahead towards consuming greater amount of data, more and more networks are embracing wireless technologies in order to address the ever-growing capacity issues in a cost effective manner. 

Looking ahead to the year 2018, Johan Terve, VP Marketing, Aptilo Networks shares his set of predictions for the wireless industry.

Revival of offloading and carrier Wi-Fi due to unlimited plans

Carrier Wi-Fi and offloading will experience a revival. So far, it has been mostly the users that have driven the Wi-Fi offload agenda. Wherever they could find a free Wi-Fi network, they connected. In most countries people spend more time with their smartphones on Wi-Fi than on cellular. Now, with more and more unlimited cellular data plans, the smartphone will still continue to be primarily a Wi-Fi device. Why?

Many cellular-centric operators have not realized just how much data their users are eating.

It’s been a merry-go-round, with carriers offering more all-you-can-eat data plans to stay competitive — with the expectation that users will jump to Wi-Fi. Now, when users actually do use their data plans, the carriers are realizing…whoa! We need to provide more capacity, especially indoors, as cost-effectively as possible. It reiterates the need for carriers to have a holistic solution in place, one that offers a robust Wi-Fi network to supplement their unlimited data plans. And this allows carriers to be flexible with their business models, because you never know what the future holds.

Besides, Wi-Fi offloading is a good business especially if operators combine it with managed B2B guest Wi-Fi services which provide the indoor coverage and offload capacity so much needed at high-traffic areas.

Johan Terve, VP Marketing, Aptilo Networks

B2B is where the growth is

All operators will turn to B2B to achieve growth and indoor capacity in 2018. The majority of operators already have some B2B plan in the works. For example, NOS in Portugal is offering their massive network of cinemas, multi-site retail venues and more with opportunities to sell Wi-Fi to their own customers, whether they be end-users or mall tenants looking to engage their own audiences. We know that 77 percent of shoppers spend more time at stores when you offer Wi-Fi. That kind of draw is compelling. Operators know this.

With that, we believe 2018 will be the year when operator-managed B2B Wi-Fi services will really take off. Look at Spectrum Business‎ (former Time Warner Cable Business Class®), a company that has prepared itself to address this. Same with Telia in Sweden as well as NOS, two carriers that have made the leap to managed Wi-Fi services. Why is this? Because managed services allow carriers to be nimble to meet the rapid changes of the industry. IT departments don’t typically have the capacity to handle today’s complex, dynamic deployments and to keep up with demanding users who expect the same excellent Wi-Fi they have in their homes. As such, carriers will be relying heavily on cloud-based managed services to tackle these challenges.

Wi-Fi calling ramps up with more affordable IMS

Here’s the reality check with Wi-Fi calling: only 30-50 operators out of 700 have rolled it out, so while everyone knows that Wi-Fi calling is crucial to obtain indoor coverage for mobile operators’ voice services, it still has yet to break its stride with regard to adoption. It’s because IMS and handset-readiness hasn’t been there. In 2018-19 we expect more readiness on the handset side, with more operators putting the IMS in place. So don’t be surprised if Wi-Fi calling adoption starts to pick up the pace – fast.

More affordable IMS solutions will be the spark for this development. MVNOs will take on IMS delivered to them as software-as-a-service, making Wi-Fi calling a more affordable proposition for them and, therefore, increasing deployments. Few MVNOs can take on the investment of an IMS as-is.

Small cells need to learn from Wi-Fi 

Small cells have long been a disappointment in the industry. Part of the problem has been challenges in site acquisition. In the macro-cell world, mobile operators just rent space from property owners to mount their base stations. Now they need to place their small cells into sites like shopping malls, and they’re encountering resistance. Just think about it. What will it mean for the business owner allowing a mobile operator with, let’s say, 40% marketshare to deploy their small cells? The business owner will instantly lose the insights and engagement that Wi-Fi offers with up to 40% of their visitors. Especially in countries that have all-you-can-eat cellular data plans, where many users do not actively look for Wi-Fi.

We think that operators will continue to have problems deploying their small cells in many locations unless they adopt a Wi-Fi-like business model. They need to offer the same analytics, user engagement and marketing capabilities to their business customers as Wi-Fi does. Otherwise business owners will just continue with their Wi-Fi services relying on visitors to connect in order to save on data allowances and to get better indoor coverage.

More or less every small cell that goes out will have a Wi-Fi radio in them anyway, so operators will have the opportunity to use both the small cells and Wi-Fi in their offering to their business customers. And with the increasing appetite for data capacity, they need both.

In 2018 and beyond, Wi-Fi-like business models will become the main vehicle for small cell deployments. Mobile operators will use both Wi-Fi and small cells and offer their business customers the same analytics, user engagement and marketing tools for both technologies.

The needs will differ from site to site. Some business owners do not care about user engagement while others see it as a must. The ability to engage with a visitor through a captive portal, SMS or e-mail must therefore be set per location and subscriber type through advanced policy management.

5G is a framework not a technology

The industry is finally coming to terms with the fact that 5G is a framework and not a technology. Wi-Fi is a natural part of that framework. Especially in dense environments, Wi-Fi coupled with core networks will increase the 5G access network capacity and benefit users’ wireless experience. The role of Wi-Fi as an integral part of 5G is driven further by new technologies such as 802.11ax which use the similar control mechanisms (OFDMA) as LTE.

This will vastly improve the Wi-Fi experience in dense areas. The argument that “Wi-Fi” is only best effort will soon fade away.

The closer we get to testing out 5G, the more carriers will realize how to truly leverage Wi-Fi in this framework and that doing so is necessary to keep up with the demand for data capacity.

IoT needs a horizontal communication layer

There’s a strong need for a “horizontal communication layer” for IoT. Today there are siloed end-to-end solutions. Say, one solution for my car, another for my home appliances etc. In 2018 more operators will offer IoT connectivity services from a horizontal communication platform offering connectivity for multiple IoT radio technologies such as 4G, NB-IoT, Wi-Fi, LoRa and SigFox.

Another thing worth remembering before hyping cellular technologies for IoT too much, is that the vast majority of the billions of IoT devices will be short-range (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other proprietary technologies). According to Ericsson Mobility report 06-2017 there will be 15.5 billion short-range IoT devices by 2022, but only 1.5 billion cellular IoT devices.

GDPR limbo

The General Data Protection Regulation, which was enacted to address the need for data privacy, is an important initiative. Unless operators work with vendors who understand and can support them in being GDPR compliant, service providers and businesses will be stuck in limbo as they, together with technology solutions providers, race to develop GDPR-compliant products and services. In 2018 GDPR is here for the greater good, but will also take the greater part out of European productivity gains. It will take some time and established best practices in how to interpret GDPR regulations before productivity of European businesses is back on track.