A white paper and cost model, produced by consulting group Wireless 20/20 and analysts at Heavy Reading, reaches the clear conclusion that MNOs will end up buying extra Wi-Fi capacity from ISPs on a pay-as-you-go basis. They will be motivated to do this because the cost will be so much less than building the extra capacity themselves, once there are marketplaces to support this flexible approach to capacity.
A pioneering exchange, BandwidthX, is the focus of the report, as it provides a marketplace to bring what it calls “Dark Wi-Fi” from ISPs to MNOs. Companies with access to unused Wi-Fi, usually in the form of homespots or the spare capacity in amenity Wi-Fi hotspots, can use the marketplace to connect with those MNOs who need extra capacity. Both buyer and seller enter a number of criteria and BandwidthX automatically connects partners whose offerings and requirements match.
BandwidthX claims that the service manages billing, QoE and QoS monitoring. The advantages of such a system to MNOs is fairly obvious, as it allows them to avoid capex investment in building a network to handle peak data rates. As a Wi-Fi network already exists (in the example instance of the marketplace) the cellular operator can use the pre-existing Wi-Fi network and does not have to build an overlapping network itself.
The marketplace is cloud-based and its servers require information from both parties about connection and authentication methods. When the pricing for capacity is agreed upon (which happens automatically using pre-entered bid and offered pricing) the servers send connection instructions to the consumer device and Wi-Fi hotspot. The AAA (authentication, authorization, accounting) functions are handled in the cloud via plug-ins on the device browser or on an app.
The plug-in also handles the quality of the connection, checking that the bandwidth, signal strength and latency are adequate for a broadband experience and negotiating another signal source if it is not. The plug-in can then coordinate with the cloud servers to switch traffic back to cellular if the connection is not up to quality of experience targets.