Both subscribers and devices tend to connect to Wi-Fi whenever it is in reach. Mobile operators need Wi-Fi offload to follow their subscribers. The business case for Wi-Fi offload is both about saving on costs and reducing churn.
Why Wi-Fi Offload
For years, mobile subscribers have been using 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.”
Additionally, more and more devices such as laptops and tablets come with mobile data broadband capabilities built-in, as they are designed to download content anywhere, any time. While some mobile operators urgently need a cost-effective way of satisfying customers’ ever-increasing hunger for more bandwidth, this is not the only driver for Wi-Fi offload. As devices with built-in Wi-Fi perform better in Wi-Fi networks (with speeds up to 1,3 Gbit/s) than in 3G/4G – especially indoors – mobile operators need to be able to deliver a good Wi-Fi-based end-user experience. Furthermore, with more and more new types of devices being designed specifically as “Wi-Fi only,” the operator can decrease churn and make subscribers more “sticky” by offering Wi-Fi.
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. Learn more about the effects of customer retention in our Wi-Fi monetization section.
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 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. The Aptilo Wi-Fi offload solution helps service providers address these aspects in a cost-effective, holistic and pragmatic way.
1. 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 100 service providers in 70 countries since 2001. The Aptilo Service Management Platform™ provides 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, B2B services and payment options.
2. 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 Service Management Platform™ 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.
3. 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.
Choose the best and most deployed Wi-Fi Offload Solution
Aptilo Service Management Platform™ (SMP) is the world’s most deployed system to manage traffic offload to Wi-Fi. We are known worldwide as the leading authority on Wi-Fi offload, and we are thrilled to be honored by industry experts as the winner of many awards for our innovative Wi-Fi Offload solution. Our vendor agnostic solution, with specific support for all leading vendors, gives you the freedom to pick and choose the best of breed Wi-Fi access points and gateways from our partners.