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Blog

Taking Wi-Fi Outdoors

By Irvind Ghai

Today Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and deemed a utility in many different parts of the world. It has become the de facto way to connect our televisions, audio speakers, security cameras and more smart devices in the home. Most of us don’t even give a second thought as our smartphones and tablets switch over from cellular to Wi-Fi as we pull into the garage, providing seamless connectivity, and often faster speeds. However, Wi-Fi technology is enabling a lot more than that as it becomes an integral part of the outdoors communication infrastructure.

Wi-Fi Outdoors

Outdoor Wi-Fi use cases include Hotspots, Backhaul and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) applications. This outdoor renaissance is being accelerated in part by new advancements given the transition to Wi-Fi 6, which brings about more spectral efficiency and better performance in dense environments such as public venues. Wi-Fi 6 introduces features like orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), traditionally a cellular 4G/LTE implementation, to unlicensed spectrum. This allows multiple clients to be addressed simultaneously in the same channel. In addition, uplink and downlink MU-MIMO functionality allows support for multiple-users across different spatial streams. Another factor helping deployments is the inherent characteristics of the 5GHz band. It is subject to less interference and with directional antennas can be used to provide point-to-point links and backhaul.

Hotspots are becoming more and more prevalent outdoors as service providers and venues look to extend Wi-Fi coverage. There are multiple business factors driving these deployments. In some cases, a carrier might not have licensed spectrum but is offering mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service to its broadband subscribers. In such a case there is a business motivation to get its customers offloaded to self-owned Wi-Fi hotspots as quickly as possible. Another reason is limited LTE spectrum or capacity. In that scenario, a service provider might use a Small Cell and Wi-Fi offload network topology to maximize coverage while minimizing CaPex. Yet another driver is the pressure faced by stadium and concert halls today to get fans physically into venue seats versus watching the event at home on their connected screens without the crowds and parking hassles. Selling those event tickets, also leads to an increase in high-margin auxiliary revenue from food, beverage and merchandise transactions. Here Wi-Fi coverage is being provided to enable fans to interact in real time on social media and to enhance the experience by offering instant replays or different angle views. Wi-Fi is an economical choice for all the above outdoor installs, given technology enhancements in high density coverage and capacity. It is also a scalable and mass-market approach with the availability of industrial range solutions in IP67 element protection.

Backhaul support is key to tying together these outdoor hotspots to the core network, and 5GHz Wi-Fi point-to-point (P2P) solution is one way to provide that network backbone. This makes for more robust outdoor offerings. A range of OEMs offer solutions for this market with cost points ranging from the $100s to $1000s, in correlation to the bandwidth and distance covered. In addition to enabling access points, network planners are also using such 5GHz backhaul solutions to link buildings together, providing connectivity for remote CCTV coverage in farming/dairy applications. These 5GHz backhaul links are also actively being deployed by Wireless ISPs (WISPs), in emerging geographies to provide point-to-multipoint (P2MP) internet connectivity to rural markets.

Fixed Wireless Access solutions can complement the above backhaul product offerings to provide a wireless broadband connection. Companies across a wide spectrum are investing in FWA…anywhere from the big Telcos that are leaning forward on 5G mmWave solutions, to start-ups using proprietary algorithms. Along with venture capitalists, governments are also funneling money to help reduce the connectivity divide. With the advent of Wi-Fi 6, OEMs and New Age ISPs are leveraging 8x8 MIMO chipsets with differentiated RF and Antenna technologies to reach gigabit performance. In many cases, these Wi-Fi based solutions are more flexible and cost-optimized versus licensed band products. The same Wi-Fi chipset type can be used for an FWA proprietary gigabit approach to connect to the base station, and then also used to provide the 8x8 home gateway. This allows OEMs the ability to monetize their R&D investment across a common Wi-Fi platform for both set of products in terms of software re-use. Combining product volumes also means securing better pricing. Finally, FWA solutions also have a time-to-market advantage versus digging up for Fiber.

Wi-Fi has long established itself as the optimal connectivity solution for the home and office, and by leveraging its new capacity, performance and robustness, it is quickly doing the same for the Outdoors.