To Wi-Fi, or Not to Wi-Fi?

by John Cahill
Vice President Business Development

Wi-Fi is the method of choice to connect laptops, tablet, smartphones and any other nomadic device to a business network, public Internet or home network.

In-building cellular networks will complement Wi-Fi networks to provide carrier managed connectivity and services.

Although there are overlap of service capabilities between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, such as basic Internet access and evolving voice over Wi-Fi services, there are distinct differences and advantages to both.

Wi-Fi will continue to be a fundamental network technology for business and residential users to provide simple, easy access to the public or corporate Internet. Wi-Fi network connectivity is made via radios that operate over a band of unlicensed or publicly available spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Committee. Any device that complies with defined electronic emission parameters and meets operating constraints can legally utilize this spectrum. Besides networking devices, microwave ovens, cordless phones and other devices may utilize this spectrum band. Someone/something next door could be interfering with your network signal and connectivity. Also, Wi-Fi networks provide service coverage in a very targeted area. When you leave that area the connection drops. There are initiatives underway to add “roaming” capabilities across networks but this is still a work in progress.

Cellular network connectivity is made via radios that operate on licensed or assigned spectrum that the carriers paid billions of dollars to utilize. The use of these spectrum bands is restricted to the carrier to whom it is assigned. The cellular network signals and protocols are encoded to ensure each device connection is secure and independent. Thus there is an inherent level of security associated with cellular connectivity.

Although business-created Wi-Fi networks typically add multiple levels of security (e.g. access passcodes and intrusion detection devices), public Wi-Fi hotspots (e.g. coffee shops) are open unsecured networks. You don’t want to do your banking or online purchases over these networks.

Radios are only one part of wireless connectivity. A user device connects to a wireless access point (Wi-Fi or cellular radio base station) that is connected to the Internet via a backhaul circuit. The bandwidth and technology of the backhaul circuit has a large impact on performance of the wireless connection. As cellular connectivity is a managed service provided by your carrier, the end-to-end throughput and network performance, including backhaul circuits, is administered and operated to designed service levels. Public Wi-Fi hotspots can be constrained by the backhaul circuit utilized at the particular location. Typically a public Wi-Fi network would restrict access to online video streaming services like Netflix. And even business may limit certain Internet sites or services. Otherwise a business network may come to a screeching halt during NCAA tournament time. You may have been at your favorite coffee shop with fantastic network response until more customers arrive and utilize the Wi-Fi network.

The bottom line, Wi-Fi network connectivity may be fine and acceptable in a number of cases. But as long as people use mobile carrier connected devices; in-building cellular coverage will be a necessity to complement any locally available Wi-Fi service.

December 17, 2014
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