Days after the Broadband Forum announced its intention to recommend wireline and wireless converged networks and 5G to mobile standards group 3GPP, NGMN and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) published the initial results of their partnership to encourage convergence of multi-technology RANs and core networks.
The latter two organizations wrote a report promoting several emerging opportunities and potential use cases occurring when 3GPP's 5G and WiFi converge. This goal, however, requires steps such as tighter integration of WiFi access into 5G networks, enhanced network manageability and policy control, and enablement of WiFi-only devices,
according to NGMN and WBA. (See Broadband Forum 2019: Focused on Services.)
"5G and Next Gen WiFi (WiFi 6) technologies will, over the course of the next year, present a new set of features and capabilities to address the wireless ecosystem," Tiago Rodrigues, general manager of the Wireless Broadband Alliance told Broadband World News. "Being able to combine both technologies will optimize operator's requirements, investments and delivery of services to their customers."
Broadband providers' fiber investments -- used for FTTH and home WiFi, as well as densification to support 5G -- get additional bang for the buck as WiFi and cellular systems get closer in proximity. After all, WiFi6 and 5G encompass both New Radio (NR) and LTE. But, NGMN and WBA agree what's ultimately needed is network-level convergence between 5G and WiFi.
"By combining Wi-Fi with 5G, we address both identified and future use cases in a more efficient and economic way. WBA and NGMN have created a joint task force that intends to identify the benefits and challenges for operators pursuing a strategy of RAN Convergence (HetNet)," Rodriguez said. "We have identified five major challenges, including 'How to enable WiFi only devices; how to have a tight integration between 5G and WiFi; what features for network management and policy control need to be developed; how to better manage traffic routing across multiple RANs and what are the economic benefits of RAN convergence for the operators.' "
Network-level convergence allows providers to leverage both RANs' capabilities to deliver seamless connectivity as data travels between 5G mobile and WiFi6 networks, according to the two advocates.
"Bringing together 5G and Next Generation Wi-Fi will have a significant, positive impact on the wireless experience for end users, which is why collaborations like this one between NGMN and WBA are so important," said Klaus Moschner, executive programme manager at NGMN, via email. "The emerging opportunities and use cases found in this report will assist in driving the 5G ecosystem forward and forming a clear strategic path for converged RAN deployments. It is critical that other key industry bodies join the conversation and work with us on technologies that are going to have a huge impact on the overall ecosystem."
One possible use case: Enterprise services carried on cellular networks, particularly those 5G Core enables, may trigger new considerations for using an access-neutral mechanism to address coverage gaps, the number of indoor and outdoor WiFi deployments, and the potential for multi-site enterprise environments, he said. Added Peter Meissner, NGMN Alliance CEO, some cellular operators want a standardized solution, so they gain improved visibility and control into the configuration and management of WiFi access networks. Convergence of 5G and WiFi potentially could deliver big benefits to mobile operators, enterprise and public WiFi solution providers including cable operators and high-speed broadband providers, which then garner access to both 5G and WiFi networks, he said.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.