If you own an iPhone, you already know what wireless data congestion looks like. It’s when your phone tells you that you have a strong signal, but you can’t connect to the 3G network, or you can get only a very weak, very slow connection.
The reason is because the cell site you’re using has reached its capacity, or perhaps the backhaul is at capacity. Either way, you can’t get your data through the pipe that’s available to you.
As high speed data networking demands grow, the iPhone problem is going to hit more and more carriers. This will happen because people are buying tablet devices that can show movies, devices with video conferencing, music downloads or data for voice services such as Skype. But whatever the reason, the demand will grow, and today’s seemingly vast LTE and WiMax networks will begin to seem very limited indeed.
Part of the problem is that 4G doesn’t lend itself all that well to very dense environments, so as data demand grows in the urban core of cities, the problem won’t get better just by adding more LTE or WiMax sites. Fortunately, there’s WiFi. It’s also fortunate that most of the current crop of smart phones support WiFi in addition to 3G/4G. Ruckus Wireless, a company that has been involved in delivering outdoor and last mile WiFi data solutions for years, has announced that it has a solution to this impending problem.
The idea is a new crop of 802.11n access points and other devices that can provide reliable communications in tightly packed environments and provide high-speed backhaul and point-to-multipoint delivery solutions. The Ruckus Mobile Internet products have the ability to provide reliable WiFi wireless communications to users equipped with compatible products whether they’re inside or outside. The new product line includes access points designed for exterior use as well as features such as a wireless backhaul that can handle more than 80M bps at distances as great as 8 kilometers.
According to David Callisch, marketing vice president for Ruckus, this wireless backhaul is dramatically less expensive than the existing microwave or fiber optic links used by carriers, but it still provides carrier-grade reliability and manageability. Ruckus has also released a WiFi management system, its Flexmaster 9.0, that can manage the thousands of self-configuring meshed access points necessary to cover a large urban area. Such products are already in use in India and Chile where the existing carrier infrastructure won’t support the bandwidth demands of wireless networking.
Carries to Put Restrictions on VOIP, GSM on WiFi
There is, however, one area in which 3G congestion is likely to get worse, and where it can’t be fixed by making WiFi available. That area is voice communications, which is arguably the most important part of having a phone. The reason is that in the United States at least, only one carrier allows voice calls over WiFi.
T-Mobile started allowing WiFi calling when it brought out the BlackBerry Curve a few years ago. This may have been due to the fact that T-Mobile’s coverage in the United States was pretty thin and their 3G solution wasn’t going to be coming along right away. So as a result, the company created a service that lets you make calls using any WiFi connection. Unless you were on a specific plan that allowed unlimited calling, you’d get charged your voice minutes just as if you’d made a call using T-Mobile’s regular voice network.
“The other carriers are going to have to allow this,” Callisch said. He pointed out that the 3G and 4G networks only have so much capacity. In dense urban environments WiFi is the technology that makes sense, especially when it uses 11n with its support for specialized antenna technology and very high bandwidth, Callisch said. Restrictions on the use of Skype and other VoIP technologies as well as technology such as GSM over WiFi that T-Mobile uses are going to be necessary if carriers are going to be able to serve their customers, he said.
In cities where it’s already available, such as in Hong Kong, Callisch said that as much as 80 percent of peak traffic is handled by WiFi instead of 3G or 4G technologies. He noted that in many cases, this traffic comes from demand for video programming, which is exactly the service that carriers want to provide because they can charge more for video. But he noted that without it, the carriers are going to be limited in what they can provide.
Right now, however, it seems as if the U.S. carriers consider WiFi to be mostly an afterthought. Most smartphones support WiFi only for data. Verizon Wireless, with its Skype support on Android phones, AT&T with Skype support on iPhones, and T-Mobile allow it to be used for voice communications. Otherwise, it’s data only, apparently that’s added for delivery of e-mail and movies for people when they’re inside buildings. But outdoor WiFi is already here, and it might be the only near term workable solution carriers have for the demands on their capacity. Now they just have to let their customers use it for everything.