Poor Wi-Fi management could cost mobile operators $18 billion, according to new research by XCellAir in partnership with independent telecoms analyst Real Wireless.
The study highlights how poor management of Wi-Fi assets limits the usefulness of these assets, particularly in dense urban environments where many access points are deployed to serve large numbers of users and large volumes of data.
Interference between these access points, and minimal spectrum management, means that the user experience is often sub-optimal, the study shows.
Furthermore, the research found nearly all (92%) access points do not adjust their operating frequency, no matter how badly performance is degraded by interference.
It also found that on average, two channels worth of bandwidth is unused at any given time, despite congestion and interference.
Each channel equates to 50MBps of idle bandwidth totalling 100MBps unused. In practical terms, this is enough latent capacity to concurrently stream 25 HD videos, or more than 3000 HD voice calls, says Real Wireless.
Given these inefficiencies and the potential for improvement, Real Wireless developed a cost model of an operator that ignored these issues, and compared that model against one that could effectively manage interference and spectrum utilisation across Wi-Fi assets.
Such an operator would maximise the efficiency of its Wi-Fi network by using automatic, intelligent and scalable interference and radio resource management and fault avoidance techniques, says Real Wireless.
Using a five-year model of a large operator with 25% market share, the net present contribution of operational savings and new service revenues amounted to $374 million over five years.
This was made up of:
When scaled to the top ten financial centres across the globe, the opportunity for all operators equates to $17.9bn over five years, according to Real Wireless.
"Our study reveals the destructive impact of poor Wi-Fi QoE management in cannibalising valuable network capacity," says Simon Saunders, Real Wireless director of technology.
"Carrier Wi-Fi technology is central to supporting most global 4G, and ultimately 5G, network architectures to deliver the best possible user experience. This is especially important in dense urban areas.
“It is therefore critical that operators take action to ensure Wi-Fi does not become the weak link and prevent service differentiation,” he says.
Operators looking to launch carrier Wi-Fi as a way to monetise new and existing customers, as well as introduce new ‘quad-play' services, face significant challenges in giving customers the quality of service expected, says Real Wireless.
These challenges are quite different to those of a licenced cellular network – where standards for spectrum, interference and radio resource management for cellular networks are carefully defined, and these networks are designed and optimised by operators to allow multiple technologies and cell types to coexist.
Wi-Fi spectrum is, in contrast, a ‘wild west' accessible to all, with very little provision for management within standards, often resulting in poor service, says Real Wireless.
"It's important that operators don't see unlicensed spectrum as unmanageable spectrum," says Narayan Menon, XCellAir founder and CTO.
"Wi-Fi offload is already a major technique for operators to increase the capacity of data that they can deal with - but it has been used more as a ‘sticking plaster' than as an integral part of the network.
“For Wi-Fi offload to be truly valuable, the customers' quality of service needs to be just as good as it would be on the cellular network, rather than a second-class network customers are stuck with when data demand is high.
“Operators must consider unregulated and unlicensed spectrum as another asset in their radio network, and must manage it appropriately or fail to maximise its revenue and service potential,” says Menon.