Convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G access technologies is critical for enabling new breed of services, applications and experiences such as Industry 4.0, augmented & virtual reality (AR/VR), connected cities and Edge computing. This is according to the latest report from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), developed with input from mobile carriers, Wi-Fi providers, telecom manufacturers, and its own 5G Working Group.
The report, expanding on the WBA and NGMN RAN convergence whitepaper from 2019 which articulated the benefits and use-cases of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G convergence, provides a breakdown of the current standards and key business opportunities for operators.
Businesses and operators stand to gain a great deal from the seamless integration of Wi-Fi and cellular access in the 5G networks, including:
- Public & Enterprise Wi-Fi: Increases 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 the networks.
- Industry 4.0: The potential use of both 5G NR and Wi-Fi access dramatically improves connectivity and traffic steering on the factory floor across both accesses, facilitating greater utility of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
- Smart city: 5G NR and Wi-Fi access can interoperate to create uninterrupted connections, and traffic to data-hungry edge applications can be more easily managed.
- At home: The availability of both accesses allows a mix of traffic options in residential applications to boost connectivity and provide a more well-rounded end-user experience.
- Wi-Fi only devices: 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.
“The convergence of Wi-Fi 6 & 6E and 5G is a win-win scenario for end-users, cellular and Wi-Fi players,” says WBA CEO, Tiago Rodrigues. “The continued development of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 & 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. 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.
Critical action areas
The report, led by Broadcom, Cisco, Intel and Orange, investigates technologies which enable end-user 5G services over Wi-Fi access. It highlights several critical action areas for industry bodies and operators related to supporting trusted WLAN integration with the 5G core and enabling QoS differentiation for 5G flows over WLAN access. The specific enhancements and suggested actions for the industry are broken down into five distinctive key areas:
● 5G and Wi-Fi convergence architecture
● Multi-access functionality for Access Traffic Steering, Switching and Splitting (ATSSS)
- End-to-end QoS (Quality-of-Service)
- Policy Interworking and enhancements across 5G and Wi-Fi
- 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. It highlights interworking requirements between 3GPP-defined Access Traffic Steering, Switching and Splitting (ATSSS) multi-access functionality, and existing solutions adopted on device platforms.
To enable end-to-end QoS, the paper emphasizes the importance of providing QoS differentiation within WLAN for 5G flows and analyses the issues associated with mapping 5G QoS to Wi-Fi QoS. Policy interworking aspects across 5G system and Wi-Fi access are examined alongside the considerations for enabling an operator to provide differentiated 5G service using both cellular and Wi-Fi access as part of a converged service bundle.
The paper further explores how to support Wi-Fi-only devices without SIM capability in the 5G system. It highlights the need to define non-SIM-credential based authentication methods over WLAN access for private 5G networks.
Addressing the proposed enhancements and challenges may further improve the integration of Wi-Fi access in a 5G system allowing seamless and interoperable 5G services to end-users across a wide array of use-cases and verticals. The report highlights the standard bodies where this work may be further addressed.
Active development underway
Convergence considerations are under active development by industry regulators and standards bodies, including 3GPP and IEEE, bridging the gap with standards bodies involved in the development of protocols for mobile telecommunications. Operators and providers can reap many of the benefits of 5G and Wi-Fi convergence by implementing the current specifications and by addressing the enhancements and challenges as outlined by the WBA and some of its members.
Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer at BT Group says, “Historically, cellular and fixed/Wi-Fi services have been delivered and consumed as independent offerings, limiting the service experience for customers. With advances in convergence, the dividing lines are beginning to blur, and that’s great news. ”
“Customers can increasingly focus on what they use their connectivity for, rather than how it is delivered. End-users and the industry at large stand to gain massively from convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G, but only if we, as operators, infrastructure and device vendors, act together to fully define and deliver these new converged solutions”
As a member of the WBA, BT Group are among those companies poised to benefit early from convergence, because they will have an intimate understanding of the issues involved and how to solve them.
The WBA is also conducting liaison activities in conjunction with its report to further facilitate action during the first half of 2021. Furthermore, WBA recently approved follow-on work items focusing on 5G-Wi-Fi RAN Convergence in Private 5G networks which will start in Q1 2021. WBA invites the industry to join 5G Work Group activities.
“Operators are increasingly utilising the high capacity, low latency and low-cost of Wi-Fi 6/6E to control the elevated capital expenditure associated with 5G systems rollouts,” says Gabriel Desjardins, director of marketing for the Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division at Broadcom. “The ubiquity of Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi only devices, with an active installed base of more than 13 billion devices, provides a low-cost coverage option for the delivery of standalone 5G services.
This is particularly true for indoor environments where Wi-Fi is the access technology of choice that can support new and emerging use cases such as mobile broadband access, AR/VR experiences, industrial IoT, distance learning, telepresence, to mention just a few. The seamless and secure integration of Wi-Fi access technology in 5G systems is a game changer for operators, over the top providers and their customers alike.”
Claire Chauvin, director Strategy, Architecture & Standardisation at Orange adds, “The convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G is an important asset available in delivering services to an operator’s customers. Convergence can help improve network reach as well as enabling innovative services to exploit the opportunities an integrated 5G environment presents to its users. It is an important facet in delivering the Smart Home, to provide optimised connectivity for customers and traffic management for operators.”