Cellular networks still 'not ready for data'

Joseph Waring
08 Sep 2010

If cellcos are desperately in need of offload strategies to deal with the coming mobile data avalanche, it's their own fault for trying to trying to cram voice and data onto a single network. So says Lin Chi Hung, president of Wi-Fi firm Altai Technologies, which has developed so-called "Super Wi-Fi" that gives the technology a far greater range than the usual 100-meter hot spot.

Lin said Altai's engineers have expanded the signal propagation of Wi-Fi access points to a diameter of 1.7 km using smart antenna design and noise avoidance and noise cancellation algorithms. Altai aims to promote Wi-Fi as a viable offload technology not only as an access point but also as a backhaul option.

Lin says operators have just added data to their voice architecture, "and they call it 3G. Voice and data have totally different requirements but they put them into a single architecture. I don't think it will work." Said Lin: "There is no need to integrate at the network level, which is what make it so expensive.

Why not let 2G handle the voice and let IP take care of data? It's probably a conspiracy because operators don't like IP offload." Hong Kong-based Altai has seen soaring demand for its Wi-Fi access points for 3G data offload as well as data backhaul. The company started in the ISP market in emerging markets, but since data demand exploded last year, it has been targeting operators in developed countries, Lin said.

"There is huge demand for 3G offload from operators. It's a much larger market than with ISPs." Lin said the advantage of Wi-Fi as an overlay to offload data is that the base stations can be co-located with existing cell sites and provide 80% coverage.

He said expanding 3G capacity is expensive, "so telcos can use opex to build an overlay network without any additional investment." For data offload and backhaul Altai is working with China Telecom and China Mobile as well as an unnamed Hong Kong operator.

By next year Lin said Altai will be involved in 15 citywide or nationwide projects in developing countries. It is working with an operator in Nepal to provide citywide coverage of Katmandu with about 100 base stations. It also is doing a 20-km trial in the capital of Algeria, which is set to finish at the end of the year. It aims to start work on a nationwide rollout (80% of populated areas and roads) next year. In Nantong, outside of Shanghai, it installed 330 base stations last year for full city coverage.

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