Ericsson is rumoured to be buying BelAir Networks, the Canada-based small cell equipment specialist. If true it's another strong sign that WiFi is now firmly in the strategic sights of both equipment vendors and their primary customers. By Ian Scales.
The inside info comes from GigaOm, a highly respected telecoms site and usually fairly accurate about these things - in this case it's our old friend 'sources' and GigaOm says both Ericsson and BelAir have responded with a 'no comment' which is often a sure sign that a deal is in the wind.
Even if it's not true, the interest in such a rumour tells us a lot about what the industry thinks 'should' be happening.
This year there's going to be a flurry of standards announcements with Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) both expected to land. In fact they're complementary initiatives - Hotspot 2.0 is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s attempt to define next gen WiFi Hotspot technology, in particular to pave the way for operators to knit so-called 'seamless' interworking for smartphones between conventional cell and WiFi hotspots.
This, it's hoped, will help operators to 'fold in' all the bandwidth advantages that WiFi offers without them losing control of the user experience (and the user data that flows with the experience). At present, when users switch to wifi access (by some accounts up to 90 per cent of data use on a smartphone is typically across WiFi) all the user data is lost to the operator (see - Under-the-floor activity: is that the sound of value tunnelling its way out?
For the longer run then, operators want to get it all back again and new standards and new business models will help. But the most direct way to fold WiFi in the network would be to build out their own WiFi networks.
GigaOM points out that Ericsson’s interest in BelAir may be because it has "begun combining Wi-Fi with cellular to create dual-mode access points, extending the coverage and capacity of the mobile operators’ primary voice and mobile broadband network while also offering a cheap means of offloading Internet-bound traffic."
It suggests that by "slotting its own cellular radios into BelAir access points, it can sell operators both Wi-Fi and cellular upgrades in a single package."
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