By: Steve Martin, CTO of Ruckus Wireless
Some industry pundits see a dim future for Wi-Fi. They cite the rise of “unlimited” LTE cellular data plans and competition from technologies, like LTE-U. But if you take a deeper look at how these new developments are playing out, you’ll understand why Wi-Fi is actually experiencing an upsurge.
Unlimited mobile data plans and easy-to-access communications with no passwords make a consumer’s heart sing. But “unlimited” does not really mean “unlimited.” If you look closely, you’ll discover that full-speed service may be guaranteed for only the billing period and up to a certain data cap. After that cap is exceeded—which happens quickly on multi-user family plans—customers experience throttling, where bandwidth is reduced and performance slows down noticeably.
The promise of high-performance access to unlimited data is also an unsustainable business model for carriers over the long term. As demand grows, carriers will find that they will need to expand their LTE networks. Building a single LTE cell tower can cost millions of dollars and, while these towers provide great coverage, capacity is limited, so it’s not a viable solution.
What about LTE small cells equipped with LTE-U/LAA, which is muscling in on the 5 GHz spectrum used predominately by Wi-Fi? LTE-U promises increased capacity, so some carriers are jumping on this bandwagon. Compared to macrocell towers, which may cover square miles, small cells cover at best a tenth of that, translating to a few city blocks. Granted, they have great capacity, but deploying hundreds of thousands or millions of small cells could end up being more expensive than building a macrocell network.
Contributing to this dilemma is the real estate problem. Small cells need to be close to where the users are. To get permission for installation, carriers have to engage in contract negotiations with cities and even with owners of individual buildings. The logistical issues are beyond daunting. These challenges are so overwhelming that carriers are lobbying with the FCC and federal government to streamline rules so that they can install small cells with less local negotiation.
Let’s look at the device side. Today, 80% of devices connect to Wi-Fi and only 20% connect to cellular. It’s predicted that more than 20 billion Wi-Fi chipsets will ship between 2016 and 2021.1 So, Wi-Fi won’t be going away any time soon. Additionally, Wi-Fi devices are far less expensive to make because chipsets require less silicon and are made in much higher volume. Chipsets for LTE devices can cost 5 to 10 times more, often with expensive licensing fees added on top.
Finally, enterprises of all sizes in every sector are dependent on Wi-Fi for their local area networks (LANs). Wi-Fi is designed to service LANs, while LTE is best used in wide-area networks (WANs). Additionally, with the advent of 802.11ac Wave 2 and 802.11ax, Wi-Fi is making rapid advancements in performance, improved security, seamless hotspot connections, and the ability to handle more users, especially in high-density environments.
Learn more about advanced Wi-Fi solutions by visiting Ruckus at our Ruckus Wireless Website.