In-Building solutions– DA$, $mall Cell?, is Wi-Fi calling the answer?

By John Cahill, Vice President of Business Development

With a few possible exceptions, sufficient and capable in-building cellular coverage is expected just like water and electricity and is becoming a requirement in residential environments as well as business. A recent NY times article highlighted the current theme driving real estate – ‘The Cellphone Imperative, If I Can’t Text I’m Moving.”

Carriers as well as third party infrastructure companies have been trying to address the tremendous growth in cellular traffic as well as customer expectations. With US cell phone penetration above 100%, a critical tool for carriers to differentiate themselves and gain or retain customers is network quality – commonly measured by the ability to initiate a cell phone connection (attainability), and to maintain that connection through completion (retainability). Data throughput is another key measure of network quality. Smartphone users often create their own perception of data throughput with the 10-second rule – if I don’t get my requested information within 10 seconds (sometimes less), I move on. That move may possibly be to another location or maybe even another service provider.

Wireless service providers have been targeting large venues (public stadiums, hotels/resorts, large office buildings, campus environments, shopping malls, etc.) and specific geographies with full service DAS solutions or limited scope small cell deployments.

Multicarrier DAS solutions are more complex and very expensive. Current small cell technology is limited to serving an individual wireless provider and proving somewhat difficult to cost effectively deploy, operate and integrate into the service providers’ overall network operations. Service providers can’t address the potential enormous demand for in-building coverage with DAS or small cell solutions.

Is Wi-Fi calling the answer?   Wi-Fi calling has been available for some time through downloaded apps like Skype, Viber and Whatsapp as well as boutique carries. Now the top mainstream wireless service providers have integrated Wi-Fi calling into their off-the-shelf smartphones. Some service providers consider Wi-Fi calls excluded from any allotted monthly calling minutes, others may not and international calling may have its own restrictions. Be sure to check with your provider if your objective is to reduce or eliminate minutes of use charges.

If you have poor cellular coverage and have Wi-Fi enabled Internet connection, this can be a very viable solution. Typically, enabling Wi-Fi calling is activated through your phone’s settings and it requires connectivity to a private or public Wi-Fi network with Internet access.

Are there any downsides to Wi-Fi calling? If you typically have Wi-Fi enabled on your smartphone and regularly use available access Wi-Fi networks there is probably very little impact.

Making a call over Wi-Fi consumes very little bandwidth. Wi-Fi calling provides a good alternative for service providers to alleviate cellular coverage issues.

However, data usage, e.g., music or video streaming, on-line gaming, or any high intensive application, is a separate concern. Herein lies the crux of the issue. Studies indicate over 60% of current smartphone data traffic is currently sent via Wi-Fi networks. Can we get even more data traffic over that local Wi-Fi network and into the Internet? Delivering additional data capacity may require a “bigger” Wi-Fi Internet pipe or additional service provider deployed capacity solutions such as higher speed backhaul, targeted DAS or small cell solutions.

Public and even enterprise sponsored private Wi-Fi networks have security drawbacks. Where are your data and your transactions safest? If you are concerned connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, this solution may not be for you. The presumably more secure service provider managed connection may be your only option.

March 16, 2016
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