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Cisco bridges Wi-Fi, cellular nets

By , Network World
February 28, 2012 01:53 PM ET

Network World - At Mobile World Congress this week, Cisco unveiled products designed to provide cellular-like roaming among Wi-Fi hotspots, and disclosed deployments among several wireless service providers.

Cisco rolled out an end-to-end Wi-Fi hotspot infrastructure that the company says supports Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA)-approved technologies and Hotspot 2.0 specifications established by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Cisco also announced the availability of a Small Cell Gateway for operators to manage subscriber and service information across licensed 2G/3G/4G LTE networks and unlicensed Wi-Fi/femtocell networks.

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Cisco is working with several wireless service providers, including AT&T, BT, PCCW, Portugal Telecom, Shaw Communications, Smart and True, to deploy the new "small cell" infrastructure and deliver services that span licensed and unlicensed radio technology. The small cell rollout is designed to help operators address capacity constraints from spectrum limitations, scale coverage, provide roaming across heterogeneous access networks, and address the explosion in mobile traffic.

Based on its own research, Cisco says the next five years will see an 18-fold increase in the amount of mobile data traffic and a 3X increase over fixed data traffic. And the number of mobile devices will outnumber the amount of people on the planet by then too.

Due to physical limits and availability of licensed spectrum, existing cellular -- or macro radio -- networks alone are incapable of sustaining the growth in mobile traffic and devices, Cisco says. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous through devices like smartphones, tablets, televisions and automobiles.

Eighty percent of the time users access mobile devices, they are inside buildings, Cisco says. Service providers are looking for ways to offload traditional cellular traffic to help ensure coverage and alleviate capacity constraints from limited availability of licensed spectrum.

These are the issues Cisco's new small cell Wi-Fi infrastructure is intended to address. Small cells are both licensed radio -- low-powered indoor/outdoor base stations with limited range -- and unlicensed radio, carrier-grade Wi-Fi technologies integrated together as a network service offering.

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