WBA calls for harmonized Wi-Fi integration with 5G

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The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has published a report which outlines the options and alternative approaches available for combining access over Wi-Fi-based and cellular-based networks in the run-up to 5G, and calls for a harmonized approach to integrating them.

The WBA’s “Unlicensed Integration with 5G Networks” report defines three alternative approaches to integration, and describes key requirements for each approach:

  • Access-centric solutions integrate Wi-Fi into the cellular access-stratum. These approaches look to opportunistically use the Wi-Fi access network to enhance the core 3GPP access proposition.
  • Core-centric solutions integrate Wi-Fi into the cellular non-access stratum core network. These approaches look to define the Wi-Fi access network as a peer of the 3GPP access network and enable them to be integrated into 3GPP core systems.
  • Above-the-core centric solutions integrate Wi-Fi above-the-core network using IETF defined multi-path protocols. These approaches look to leverage the Wi-Fi access network as a peer of the 3GPP core network, but without the limitations of requiring integration into a 3GPP core system.

The WBA is calling for the ecosystem to work together to put these different approaches into practice through trials and engagement together with other key industry bodies.

The WBA white paper recommends and advocates integration solutions which treat Wi-Fi as a peer of the cellular network, believing that core-centric and above-the-core centric solutions will become the two main integration methodologies used by the industry based on the rate of market adoption.

In order to realise the full benefits of Wi-Fi integration with 5G, the WBA has also outlined a series of next steps which include further investigation into the instrumentation capabilities of Wi-Fi networks that can support various policy outcomes; the definition of a common policy framework to deliver enhanced experiences over multi-path solutions; as well as liaison with other key industry bodies to ensure stakeholder alignment.

“As the largest internet access capability, Wi-Fi is a legitimate part of the 5G technology landscape. In fact, Wi-Fi’s own generational leap to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is already demonstrating that Wi-Fi can support the delivery of some 5G use cases today, in a way that is economically viable,” said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the WBA. “The WBA is advocating a future of collaboration and integration of Wi-Fi and 5G cellular technologies to realise their full potential, but the industry must work together. The paper offers a practical guide to each different way of integrating Wi-Fi with 5G networks, while also inviting the ecosystem to become involved in trials to make it more effective to develop this technology in the next year once standards have been defined.”

Shenwai said the paper addresses another dilemma facing operator CTO teams thinking aboug integrating unlicensed and licenced technologies: wait for 5G to be fully operational and available, or make investments in unlicensed technologies now that will pay off in the future?

“This paper not only shows how these teams can capitalize on investments in Wi-Fi that will still be relevant for 5G, but also helps them to understand how the pieces fit together,” Shenwai said.

The report is available to download here.

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