With the data storm brought on by the increasing mobile data needs of tablets and smartphones, there’s a real need by operators to move as much traffic from congested macro cellular networks onto small cell Wi-Fi networks that are cheaper and easier to scale than macro cellular solutions. Such heterogeneous networks (aka “HetNets”) currently are a challenge given the range of technologies used and the roaming agreements among network operators.
To provide good quality of service (QoS), and thus an improved Quality of Experience (QoE), in the handoff from a cellular network to a small cell Wi-Fi network, operators must have control over such things as:
- Network discovery and selection
- Traffic prioritization
- User authentication
- Roaming capabilities
- The QoS actually delivered
Currently most operators don’t have a way to control these variables when moving a user to a HetNet. This means they are relying on a user’s device to make crucial decisions about which network to join and under what conditions.
Fortunately, new technology is giving operators another path.
One new solution is combining the 3rd Generation Partnership (3GPP) Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF) and the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot2.0 specification, according to a recent post on Alcatel-Lucent’s (News - Alert) TechZine, “Improving QoE in Heterogeneous Networks.”
ANDSF is a cellular standard that lets network operators provide a list of preferred access networks with policies for their use. Policies can be applied to all traffic for a given packet data network or applied to the granularity of a single IP flow. This brings a number of capabilities that are important for policy control in a HetNet environment, such as:
- Downloading policy information from any network and in-advance storage of policies and network maps
- Reporting a mobile device location based on one or several technologies at the same time
- Tailored information based on both mobile device location and time-of-day
- Providing an available access networks list that provides information on the location of WLAN access networks
- Providing a restricted or preferred access networks list, and offering both push and pull modes
Making life easier also includes following the Wi-Fi Alliance (News - Alert) Hotspot2.0 specification. It is designed to help QoE by allowing for: more easily discovered Wi-Fi roaming relationships, determination of access point capabilities and loading conditions, and more easily making secure connections to Wi-Fi networks.
Technologies such as Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio Wi-Fi™ solution help operators leverage this combination.
However, as the article explains, “While the ANDSF and Hotspot2.0 offer many of the capabilities needed for QoE in heterogeneous networks… There are many cases where enhancements to current capabilities will be required. Situations where there are only Wi-Fi operators or where the end user has separate subscriptions from a Wi-Fi operator and a cellular operator are just two examples.”
Authors Barbara Orlandi and Frank Scahill further explain that the benefits of the lightRadio solution which include: improving consistency between Hotspot2.0 and ANDSF network naming and identification through the addition of Roaming Consortium IDs in ANDSF policies; enabling ANDSF policies to better exploit Hotspot2.0 information such as the access network type; clarifications to Wi-Fi authentication mechanisms to differentiate between authentication and service authorization failures; and creating a new ANDSF policy delegation mechanism to enable the ANDSF infrastructure to refer devices to local ANDSF servers.
The authors conclude that while ANDSF and Hotspot2.0 can and will are improve QoS and by extension QoE on HetNets. However, we are still early in the development of these capabilities and as the authors suggest there are several steps that should be taken on better integrating the full functionality of both. The goal is to enable operators and have better management and control over the services they deliver while providing end users a greatly improved and competitively differentiated experience.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida. Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.
Edited by Peter Bernstein