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All-wireless enterprise with LTE and Wi-Fi

What’s holding IT managers back from going all-wireless? Managing a single enterprise wireless IT/communications network is less costly than operating a wired infrastructure supported by supplementary Wi-Fi®. And benefits include:

  • Massive downlink aggregated capacity
  • Better control
  • Higher quality of experience for employees

While a tentative transition to an all-wireless enterprise has already started with Wi-Fi, broad-based concerns about scalability, quality, and security persist. In particular, IT managers have a justifiable lack of confidence in the quality of the wireless link provided by an all Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Plus, there’s the limited ability of the Wi-Fi network to scale with increasing data rate needs. In fact, we’ve seen aggregate capacities barely increase — even as Wi-Fi networks densify.

The growing adoption of bring-your-own-device practices makes matters more complicated. Enterprise IT managers now need to interface with different mobile operator subscriptions as well as a plethora of devices. And speaking of devices, future enterprises will need to support a huge number of machine-to-machine devices such as printers, thermostats, doors, and cameras — all connected to the same singular wireless network.

The great enabler — LTE small cells

IT managers are in a tough spot. But with LTE the outlook for enterprises is a lot brighter. Mobile network operators consider LTE small cells because they provide better in-building coverage.

At the same time, operators are considering unlicensed spectrum to bring greater bandwidth into the enterprise. Specifically, mobile operators are looking to aggregate LTE in licensed bands along with LTE in the 5GHz unlicensed bands — together known as Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) or LTE unlicensed (LTE-U).

LTE-U/LAA technology promises greater capacity. Even so, operators and many enterprises are worrying about LTE-U/LAA working in the same frequency with existing Wi-Fi. What’s more, mobile operators are still designing and testing go-to-market strategies for these technologies.

The bottom line: Mobile operators remain cautiously optimistic that LTE-U/LAA will be an important piece in creating an all-wireless enterprise environment with greater capacity and higher quality of service.

While mobile operators eye the unlicensed spectrum, many enterprises aren’t yet willing to let go of Wi-Fi — their ubiquitous and principal wireless investment for in-building coverage. Furthermore, Wi-Fi already supports many devices, including PCs, phones, printers, and cameras.

Yet many challenges with Wi-Fi persist, including:

  • UL interference issues
  • Poor range
  • Limited bandwidth
  • Unfair service based simply on the proximity of one user to the access point compared to another

Forward-looking IT managers are open to new ways of overcoming these hurdles by leveraging proven cellular technologies.

Looking more closely at Wi-Fi’s limitations, several problems can be traced to the sharing mechanism between the uplink and the downlink, as well as the contention between the user uplinks.

In rare situations where there are vast amounts of unlicensed spectrum and contention is absent, Wi-Fi downlink throughput can achieve many hundreds of Mbps. But in many enterprise environments multiple Wi-Fi access points (APs) and users fight for bandwidth. Introducing an LTE-based system resolves the problem of contentious uplink by means of scheduled access. This frees up the enterprise’s existing Wi-Fi for downlink.

By offloading the Wi-Fi uplink to cellular, LTE small cells improve enterprise services. In addition, in-building enterprise traffic, such as Lync application data, can be shunted across the enterprise LAN (i.e., local breakout is enabled).

Applicable traffic remains local with the added benefits of increased reliability, capacity, and range. Mobile operators can continue to meter and monetize LTE small cell uplink assistance. And If required, alternatively or concurrently, operator policies also allow downlink traffic over the Wi-Fi air-interface to pass unmetered through the EPC.

The result? Lower cost to the enterprise and less traffic congesting the mobile operator’s core.

Small cells + Wi-Fi = big capacity

By combining existing Wi-Fi and cutting-edge LTE small cell technology (a.k.a. Wi-Fi boost, which uses cellular technologies to boost Wi-Fi performance), the aggregate voice capacity per access point is doubled. Throughout the in-cell region, a Wi-Fi boost solution can harness LTE for additional downlink capacity.

At the same time, it relies on pre-existing Wi-Fi APs and user equipment. The sum total is the LTE downlink capacity aggregated with the Wi-Fi APs downlink capacity. As a result, users everywhere see higher throughput in more locations because they benefit from LTE Wi-Fi aggregation and LTE-only for uplink.

As you’d expect, a clear understanding of enterprise needs, as well as the available technology tools, are key to obtaining an all-wireless future. If enterprises are to reach the goal of an all-wireless environment, they will need to leverage:

  • LTE in the unlicensed spectrum
  • LTE small cells
  • Existing Wi-Fi

Doing so can deliver Gbps of downlink aggregated capacity, more control, and provide end users with an LTE-like quality of experience at higher data rates.
An all-wireless enterprise future is closer than you think.

Related material

Wireless Unified Networks solution page
Blending Wi-Fi and cellular white paper
Alcatel-Lucent combines the best of Wi-Fi and LTE press release

To contact the author or request additional information, please send an email to networks.nokia_news@nokia.com.