Businesses and operators stand to gain a great deal from the seamless integration of Wi-Fi and cellular access in 5G networks, with convergence between 5G access technologies critical for enabling a new breed of services, applications and experiences such as Industry 4.0, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), connected cities and edge computing, says a research paper from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).
The report was developed with input from mobile carriers, Wi-Fi providers and telecom manufacturers such as Broadcom, Cisco, Intel and Orange, as well as the WBA’s own 5G Working Group. It investigates technologies that enable end-user 5G services over Wi-Fi access and highlights several critical action areas for industry bodies and operators related to supporting trusted WLAN integration with the 5G core and enabling quality-of-service (QoS) differentiation for 5G flows over WLAN access.
It is an expansion of existing work from the WBA and NGMN which articulated the benefits and use-cases of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, and provides a breakdown of the current standards and key business opportunities for operators.
Fundamentally, the WBA believes that businesses and operators stand to gain a great deal from the seamless integration of Wi-Fi and cellular access in 5G networks. For example, it says such convergence can increase deployment possibilities and scenarios for operators and access providers, allowing them to deliver a more seamless user experience and maintain better visibility and overall control of networks.
The report breaks down specific enhancements and suggested actions for the industry into five key areas: 5G and Wi-Fi convergence architecture; multi-access functionality for access traffic steering, switching and splitting (ATSSS); end-to-end QoS; policy interworking and enhancements across 5G and Wi-Fi; and support for Wi-Fi-only devices.
Potential convergence architecture enhancements include a tighter coupling between Wi-Fi access and the 5G gateway functions for trusted WLAN. The report highlights interworking requirements between 3GPP-defined ATSSS, multi-access functionality and existing solutions adopted on device platforms. To enable end-to-end QoS, the paper emphasises the importance of providing QoS differentiation within WLAN for 5G flows and analyses the issues associated with mapping 5G QoS to Wi-Fi QoS.
Within specific use cases, the WBS believes that for Industry 4.0 applications, the potential use of both 5G NR and Wi-Fi access can “dramatically” improve connectivity and traffic steering on the factory floor across both accesses, facilitating greater utility of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
5G NR and Wi-Fi access can interoperate within a smart city environment to create uninterrupted connections, and traffic to data-hungry edge applications can be managed more easily. The convergence enables the availability and reach of 5G services and applications to more devices in many more locations with the support for Wi-Fi-only devices, while the availability of both accesses can allow a mix of traffic options in residential applications to boost connectivity and provide a more well-rounded end-user experience.
WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues said the convergence of Wi-Fi 6 and the soon-to-be-launched next-generation 6E and 5G is a win-win scenario for end-users, cellular and Wi-Fi players. “The continued development of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 and 6E networks presents almost limitless potential for Industry 4.0, residential connectivity, connected smart cities and more, but convergence is critical for all parties if we are to truly capitalise on the potential this technology has to offer,” he said.
“This paper provides a path forward for regulators and industry bodies that stands to benefit all, giving stakeholders the ability to cost-effectively improve performance while also retaining control and maximising their return on investment.”