Ruckus CEO sees smartphone Wi-Fi key to 3G offload

Jessica Scarpati
03 May 2010
Smartphone Wi-Fi capabilities offer opportunities for 3G offload to mobile network operators , helping them cope with bandwidth-hungry applications such as video. Selina Lo, CEO of Ruckus Wireless, a wireless networking vendor, talked to about how carriers' deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots is maturing. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Wi-Fi hotspots and smartphone Wi-Fi have been around for years. What is changing about how and why carriers use them?
Lo: We've been selling to the carriers for a long time what people now call 3G offload. Previously, they called it hotspots, but it's really much more than hotspots for casual Wi-Fi access. There's nothing new about hotspots. Carriers have been doing that, but historically, they look at hotspots as just offering their subscribers casual internet access or email … and actually, for a long time, they were saying, "Well, we don't make enough revenue on the hotspot network because it's really only tailored to people who carry a laptop around."
All the cellular carriers are taking a new look at Wi-Fi. Years ago, they looked at Wi-Fi as competition. They didn't want Wi-Fi to take traffic off their networks. Now, they love to take traffic off the network because people are using the network in whole different ways -- they're streaming video, they're streaming Pandora [Radio] all the time, instead of a quick SMS message, they're doing a whole Facebook upload of photos and videos to their friends, and so the mobile data network is getting loaded up, especially during peak events. For Michael Jackson's memorial service, I know some of the mobile carriers' infrastructure was loaded up with 80% utilization, which is very high -- too high for carriers' comfort.
By embracing smartphone Wi-Fi for 3G offload, aren't they admitting, 'My mobile network isn't really that good'?
Lo: The best mobile network is still going to get congested at times, and the key thing now with the mobile internet is it happens so fast and there are so many devices coming out that can consume so much more bandwidth. There are so many apps that operators no longer control how people use their handsets. People no longer have a predictable usage pattern.
What AT&T is doing with all its Wi-Fi hotspots is being very proactive. Wi-Fi is much easier to deploy, so it's easy for them to add that service as part of their service offering to users, and you can see AT&T's hotspot usage has been going up and up … and if you talk to users, they like using Wi-Fi when it's available because Wi-Fi speed is always anywhere between two [and] 10 times faster than cellular speed. Even when cellular moves to 4G, that's still going to be the case because Wi-Fi is also continuing to evolve to higher speeds…. Wi-Fi cannot replace 3G and 4G because in terms of coverage, it's just not a highly mobile type of architecture. But it's a very good way to augment 3G for indoor coverage and for nomadic and data applications.


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