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The Case for Offloading PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 07:38


Each generation of wireless technology has revolutionized how people communicate and consume content. Second-generation cellular networks, for example, allowed people to text one another. Third-generation networks enabled far greater mobile broadband data. Fourth-generation networks enabled mobile video usage without frustrating delays. Fifth-generation cellular networks are expected to enable another revolution, transforming how people and machines communicate and even how industries do business. 5G network deployments are expected to provide significant economic and efficiency gains in the markets where they are deployed. Smart-factory and smart-city applications, autonomous vehicles and machines, and telemedicine applications are just a few of the examples where 5G technology is expected to impact a range of industries.

As such, 5G cellular networks will bring with it a paradox once it is deployed. Even as 5G networks will bring more spectrum to market, the massive amounts of new connections that will be available could overwhelm networks once billions of diverse devices connect to the 5G networks. So even as new spectrum comes to market, operators will continue to need to use offloading techniques to keep the macrocellular network operating efficiently. Already, Wi-Fi networks are used to help alleviate some of this data congestion in hopes of providing a seamless customer experience both outdoors and indoors. That practice will continue as wireless demand increases, driven not only by people but also machines that use wireless technology to communicate with each other. The ability to leverage a variety of licensed and unlicensed spectrum across multiple frequencies using various technologies, along with techniques to increase overall transmission bandwidth, remains an essential part of the answer to meeting the demand for mobile connectivity.

Wireless operators have paid the federal government billions of dollars to use licensed spectrum to deliver connectivity and content to mobile users and use unlicensed Wi-Fi connectivity to augment that delivery. But the two technologies are different. Cellular networks use licensed spectrum, which means only service providers can manage the spectrum. Wi-Fi networks use unlicensed spectrum, which means anyone can use it.

The amount of mobile data traffic on cellular networks is skyrocketing, and data usage is expected to continue increasing for the foreseeable future. Americans used a record 15.7 trillion megabytes of mobile data in 2017, nearly quadrupling since 2014.3 Service providers are looking for ways to relieve congestion from data traffic by moving some of it onto local, in-building networks while maintaining the quality customers expect from the overarching cellular network. Today, customers experience this while connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots when they enter a business or other establishment. In some cases, wireless operators have installed Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) or small cells to move traffic off the macrocellular network and onto their DAS or small-cell networks. For more information on DAS and small cells, see here: https://wia.org/resource-library/ distributed-antenna-systems-das-mid-tier-markets.

For service providers, offloading data traffic frees network capacity while continuing to provide the level of service their customers expect. Retailers, businesses and landlords find value in facilitating data traffic offload by providing their patrons and residents the connectivity they need, where and when they need it. People expect ubiquitous wireless connectivity everywhere they are, and buildings without mobile connectivity may be less attractive to enterprises and tenants.

Offloading allows customers to make and receive calls and texts over Wi-Fi or other local connections. Often the handover to a Wi-Fi network is seamless and customers aren’t even aware they are making a Wi-Fi call. Indoor, offloaded networks benefit customers by providing a seamless, out-of-the-box experience using their existing phone and phone number and extending connectivity into areas where cellular and public-safety networks often don’t reach. Future improvements in Wi-Fi calling will provide a seamless handover between available WiFi and LTE networks along with high-quality voice and next-generation calling features.

The wireless ecosystem must address growing mobile data traffic demands, whether generated by humans or machines in IoT applications. Offloading cellular traffic will be key for addressing growing demands on carriers’ networks. Wi-Fi, CBRS and 5G networks are among the existing and emerging solutions to meet this need.

A variety of stakeholders are watching the developments in this space, including enterprises, which will require reliable and secure networks to keep employees connected and systems running smoothly and efficiently. Service providers and network operators must make use of a variety of technologies and networks to ensure all customers have a high-quality experience. OEMs are crucial to bringing forth the best possible networks and user equipment to facilitate the growing demand for mobile data.