Mobile Data Offloading – often called Wi-Fi offload – is so much more than just offloading 3G/4G mobile users to the Wi-Fi network, which at many locations is a more cost-effective access method for mobile broadband. As both subscribers and devices tend to connect to Wi-Fi whenever it is in reach, mobile operators need to follow their subscribers into the Wi-Fi environment. Hence the business case for Wi-Fi offload is both about saving on costs and reducing churn. This is why many mobile operators are starting to integrate Wi-Fi simply as another radio network to their 3GPP mobile core; it is all about building a heterogeneous network (HetNet).
The Aptilo Wi-Fi Offload solution supports local breakout – which offloads the whole 3G/4G network including the mobile core – as well as the different 3GPP standards for backhauling Wi-Fi data back to the mobile core. Learn more about how Aptilo’s Wi-Fi offload solution fits into the 3GPP architecture. In both cases Aptilo’s Wi-Fi offload solution supports the integration with the mobile core for policy and charging.
Why Wi-Fi Offload?
For years mobile subscribers have been used to mobile broadband at an affordable price, in many markets even for a flat fee per month regardless of usage. That worked well until the beginning of the “iPhone era.” According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI), the average smartphone traffic nearly tripled from 2010 to 2011 (now 150 MB/month) and the global mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold between 2011 and 2016.
Wi-Fi offload can reduce cost
By offloading users from the 3G/4G network to Wi-Fi networks, mobile operators can add more capacity in an affordable and flexible way. We have seen operators that have built Wi-Fi offload networks proactively in areas with heavy mobile broadband usage such as universities – and reaped the rewards of reduced cost and lower churn due to a better user experience.
Alternative offload solutions that only focus on bypassing the packet core gateways in the mobile core will only decrease the load on these nodes and not offload the entire network including the Radio Access Network (RAN). Using femtocells for offloading is a way of building the 3G radio network cost-effectively, but femtocells do not provide an option of increasing the footprint quickly through partners the way that Wi-Fi does.
Additionally most Wi-Fi-enabled devices try to establish a Wi-Fi connection as the first choice whenever available. Some applications can only be used on Wi-Fi. It is no surprise that carrier-class Wi-Fi has rapidly gained interest and Wi-Fi offload has become a priority among mobile operators globally.
Three key aspects of Wi-Fi offload
There are three main aspects of Wi-Fi offload that need to be addressed in order for service providers to benefit from offloading data traffic from 3G/LTE to Wi-Fi:
|Building a Wi-Fi footprint that is adapted for offloading.|
|How to get devices to select Wi-Fi and automatically authenticate for a seamless user experience.|
|How to interact with the mobile core for policies and charging.|
The Aptilo Wi-Fi offload solution helps service providers address these aspects in a cost-effective, holistic and pragmatic way.
Wi-Fi offload: Building Wi-Fi footprint for offloading
Whether mobile operators choose to partner with existing Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), build their own Wi-Fi offload network or both, they all share the same challenges. Either way, they can rely on Aptilo Networks’ vast experience delivering proven carrier-class Wi-Fi service management and policy control solutions to more than 90 service providers in 60 countries since 2001. The Aptilo Service Management Platform™, Aptilo Service Portal™ and Aptilo Access Controller™ provide a highly scalable carrier-grade public Wi-Fi solution that includes enhancements for Wi-Fi offload, making it ideal both for operators that want to build their own Wi-Fi footprint and for those that just want to roam with wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). Third-party Wi-Fi networks can easily be incorporated and benefit from Aptilo’s value-added functionality for Wi-Fi offload, giving the operator full flexibility in building their own footprint and/or cooperating with WISPs.
A multitude of Wi-Fi service provider roaming interfaces have been technically verified through the Aptilo platform, including leading roaming aggregators and brokers such as iPass, Boingo, Trustive and WeRoam.
For operators that want to monetize their Wi-Fi networks beyond the offloading aspect, Aptilo offers a best-in-class Wi-Fi hotspot system with support for a wide array of business models and payment options.
Wi-Fi Offload: How to get devices to select Wi-Fi and authenticate
Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones with advanced operating systems such as Android, BlackBerry, Apple’s iOS and Windows Mobile will generally automatically try to move over from the 3G/4G data connection to a Wi-Fi network as soon as it is in range. Typically they will also remember the Wi-Fi networks to which they’ve been connected and automatically try to reconnect to them. The network selection mechanisms will be further improved with the future 802.11u standard, providing a totally seamless selection of Wi-Fi offload networks without any user interaction.
Laptops will not automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network and will need some type of connection manager to make this process automatic and seamless for the user.
Connection managers can also be used in mobile phones to provide a more intelligent Wi-Fi offload experience where policies decide where and when offloading from 3G/4G to Wi-Fi and vice versa should occur. The policies to control this mechanism – as defined in the latest 3GPP standards – are handled by the Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF) which communicates policy decisions to the connection manager. The ANDSF can retrieve policy decisions from the Policy Charging and Rules Function (PCRF). Since this standard is still in an early stage, there are many proprietary and semi-proprietary solutions on the market from different client vendors. The flexibility in the Aptilo Policy & Charging Server™ to define new logic and add new interfaces makes it ideal for early adopters of intelligent ANDSF-based Wi-Fi offload.
Once the device has selected the Wi-Fi network, the subscriber must be authenticated to be admitted to the network. The authentication must be as seamless as possible in order to maximize the business case for offloading. The best way to obtain an automatic and seamless user authentication to the Wi-Fi offload network is to utilize EAP/SIM-AKA authentication.This SIM-based authentication also adds another layer of security (requiring support for 802.1x), making the Wi-Fi network as secure as the 3G/4G network. However, it is very important to support a number of alternative authentication methods because not all devices can handle EAP/SIM-AKA. Thanks to our deep experience in the Wi-Fi market, Aptilo supports a multitude of authentication methods including SIM authentication. Learn more in our authentication methods for Wi-Fi offload section.
Wi-Fi offload: How to interact with the mobile core for policies and charging
Regardless of whether you have decided to backhaul traffic all the way to the mobile core or are planning to do local breakout to the Internet, or both, Aptilo’s Wi-Fi offload solution is there to help you control the user experience and monetize Wi-Fi investments. Learn more about our solution for policy and charging in Wi-Fi offload.