Could “Wi-Fi onload” help to avert the spectrum crunch?

Or is it just another way of saying that a fixed line operator has become an MVNO?
| PolicyTracker

UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported at the weekend that BT was planning to “shake up” the telecoms market by launching mobile services that rely partly on its extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots.

Steve Dyett, Head of Wi-Fi solutions and wholesale portfolio development at BT Global Telecoms markets, added at the Transport Networks for Mobile Operators conference in London yesterday that “we can make a Wi-Fi network look like a cellular network”. Clever securitisation techniques promise seamless connection as a user goes from hotspot to hotspot.

Speaking to PolicyTracker after his presentation, he said that the principle is “Wi-Fi onload” because the data traffic will be taken to the core through its fibre network. This will be a “true heterogeneous approach,” he added.

Can such network ever really be “like” a cellular network? According to Dyett’s presentation, BT currently provides Wi-Fi coverage for around 43 per cent of the population through the 5.5 million hotspots it supports. These hotspots are mostly based on its broadband customers’ routers.

But Dyett was not at the conference to make claims about the use of unlicensed for coverage; his emphasis was on capacity. According to him, “3G networks are creaking” and there is plenty of spare capacity in the unlicensed bands, particularly at 5 GHz.

For coverage, BT has an MVNO deal with Everything Everywhere and 50 MHz of 2.6 GHz spectrum it acquired last year which its press office tells us will be integrated into the company’s mobile offering by the end of their “two year journey to an inside-out network” through the use of Wi-Fi/4G cores.

This is a fascinating prospect, but it raises many questions: can it offer the same quality of service as the mobile networks, or will customers have to keep logging into Wi-Fi networks? Is this just a PR spin on the classic “fixed line incumbent gets MVNO to offer triple or quadruple play”? We will investigate in forthcoming articles.

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