RUCKUS Wireless is a global Wi-Fi technology pioneer focusing on building the next generation of Smart Wireless LAN systems. The company which was founded in 2004 manufactures and markets Smart Wi-Fi products directly to broadband services providers and Smart WLAN systems indirectly to enterprise customers. Named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, Ruckus Wireless is credited with developing the first Smart Wi-Fi products and technology that extend the range of Wi-Fi signals and automatically adapt to environmental changes.
The company’s Sub Saharan sales director, Michael Fletcher (MF) speaks with BIZDAY (BD) about information communication technology issues
BD: What influence will Wi-Fi have on the availability of broadband in Zimbabwe?
MF: Wi-Fi technology continues to grow in Africa. With more than 450 million mobile phones in Africa and with 50 percent internet connection being exclusively through mobile devices, it’s safe to say the uptake of the mobile market in Africa can be attributed to the fact that most Africans access the internet through their mobile devices. In fact, Africa is the second biggest mobile market in the world and the fastest growing. This growth has had a direct impact on the networks and put additional pressure on the network operators to ensure that they have capacity to account for such demand. Wi-Fi is proving to be the solution to decongesting the mobile networks. What’s more, it is a far more cost effective means of getting access to consumers when compared to 3G. Many rural towns have no broadband purely from a cost perspective and as such, Wi-Fi provides an alternative to bring broadband to rural areas for much less than 3G.
BD: Access technologies currently present in Zimbabwe include GSM, IMAX, CDMA, Fibre and copper based technologies such as ADSL as a nations which other can we expect to embrace in the next two years?
MF: Wi-Fi offload is definitely on the horizon for Zimbabwe where users will find that data will be more accessible and yield faster speeds. We hope this could also lead to price reduction to users that opt for Wi-Fi over GSM based data access.
BD: In Zimbabwe we have one fixed telephone operator is it ideal in your opinion?
MF: I do not think a single operator is ever ideal, as competition should tend to provide increased levels on service delivery, but the telco operators always seem to provide such closely related services to each other in I guess, a traditional non-collusive oligopoly type approach that consumers rarely see price reduction or increased service levels.
BD: What is Africa’s current tele-density and what is your comment with the figure when compared to the region and the rest of Europe and Asia?
MF: Fixed line penetration typically very low in Africa in general and mobile phone penetration tends to very high compared to Europe and Asia to an extent too. Many African countries have 100 percent mobile phone penetration and those that don’t, the addressable market is saturated, meaning anyone that can afford a phone has one already. The downside of this saturation is carriers are somewhat reluctant to spend great deals of money improving infrastructure as new customers are only gained by churn.
BD:What is your view and comments on the overview of the telecoms landscape in Zimbabwe?
MF: We are seeing a lot of interest of late from the Service Provider market being driven not just by increased demand for data, but also from a recent upsurge in conferencing activity. There are a number of hotspots around – mainly in Harare but very little free Wi-Fi Hotspots. On the whole, Zimbabwe is pretty much on par with most countries in the region. Internet access speeds are pretty good too.
BD: In the past 12 months bandwidth to the internet backbone has increased to 1,6 Gigabits how would you describe this growth and what figures could be Zimbabwe be looking at by December 2013
MF: I do not think the increased bandwidth has necessarily been passed onto consumers. So while overall capacity may have increased, into Zimbabwe, the fixed and even to an extend 3/4G access has not increased much if at all. So a consumer using an ADSL will not have seen any change in access speeds over the last year.
BD: How will the deployment of Smart Wi-Fi make widespread connectivity more achievable locally?
MF: Smart Wi-Fi is a collection of Ruckus technologies, all designed to extend the range and reliability of wireless signals. These technologies eliminate much of the cost and complexity of conventional wireless LAN (WLAN) deployments. Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi includes recent technical advances in beam steering, beam forming, adaptive signal path selection, quality of service, traffic classification, and fancy RF routing. In simple terms – smarter, better, faster Wi-Fi. What’s more as we see technologies, such as 802.11u that improve the subscriber experience, gain more traction, 802.11u will transform the user experience by eliminating the need to manually pick WI-Fi networks and fiddle with the phone to enter credentials. Just like the experience users have today with their cellular phones, 802.11u brings this same experience to Wi-Fi. This only helps operators offer better services in more places to users with wireless-only devices.
We also see the emergence of 802.11ac as important in the future, providing much needed capacity to Wi-Fi. Users continue to have an insatiable appetite for bandwidth. But now it’s wireless bandwidth. 802.11ac helps address this trend. Operators also must begin to deploy smaller cells enabled by devices that combine 3G/4G, Wi-Fi and wireless backhaul within a single, efficient footprint.
Finally in the United States, and potentially elsewhere around the world, the use of broadcast television white space as unlicensed wireless spectrum could be the catalyst for a new wireless revolution leading to unprecedented investment and innovation. While bit rates will be generally low, coverage will be potentially massive allowing broadband connectivity over vast areas, ideal for rural broadband deployment – making it more achievable.
BD: Hotspot 2,0 – what is it and how will this solution improve connectivity?
MF: Hotspot 2,0 is focused on enabling mobile devices to automatically discover and securely connect to Wi-Fi hotspots with no user intervention. This is essentially the same as getting off an airplane almost anywhere in the world and still getting mobile phone service. In some aspects, Hotspot 2,0 is actually more advanced than cellular roaming as it works with both dual-mode devices (those with Wi-Fi and cellular radios) and Wi-Fi only devices.
With Hotspot 2.0 the client device is equipped by an authentication provider with one or more credentials, such as a SIM card, username/password pair, or X.509 certificate. The device can then query Hotspot 2.0 capable APs to see if they can authenticate its credentials (via either the hotspot operator’s local AAA or via RADIUS routing to a “home” provider).
Hotspot 2,0 is a program of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and is complemented by the Passpoint certification program which ensures APs and client devices comply with the technical specifications. Hotspot 2.0 capabilities are emerging in a series of releases. Release 1 came out in June 2012 and was focused on automating network discovery/selection, authentication, and over-the-air security. Release 2 should be out near the end of 2013 and addresses the requirements for provisioning of non-SIM credentials and network selection policies onto a user’s device. Mobile devices with Hotspot 2,0 capabilities are now available in the market. While vendors may choose to introduce new models to enable Hotspot 2,0, the capabilities can be added via software updates in most cases. The hassles and risks of connecting to public Wi-Fi will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to Hotspot 2.0!
BD: The telecommunications industry is constantly experiencing change, how important is it for service providers to keep up with these changes?
MF: It’s not important, it’s essential! Demands are changing, access models are changing and consumers are blurring the lines between corporate and personal spaces – becoming more vocal in terms of what they want and if service providers want to keep customers, minimise churn and stay ahead of the curve, they need to adapt.
BD: What have been the major impact of ICT on society and the impact of society on ICT the past twelve months?
MF: 2012 was a great year for the Wi-Fi industry, especially in the enterprise IT space. More businesses embraced the solutions Wi-Fi had to offer and in the process improved on their internal processes and services to their customers. The growth of smartphones and tablets continued to dominate throughout the year, with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon becoming a key feature in wireless solutions for increased mobility and productivity. This resulted in vendors creating bigger and faster access points and pushing for controller-less solutions. And this year?
Although we are likely to see some of these trends continue into 2013, enterprise IT trends that will come to the forefront this year will predominantly be in the mobile and cloud computing space. Mobile device management, application management and location and file control will become key and with the increased adoption of cloud computing by business, the focus will be on Wi-Fi solutions that promote this technology. Wireless will become more pervasive and not just as a secondary connection option – but for primary use as well.
From a service provider perspective, 2013 will be the year of Hotspot 2.0 as devices and network infrastructure continue to make their way into the networks. The ability to seamlessly roam on Wi-Fi will have a huge effect on the mobile industry. What’s more, 5Ghz enabled smartphones will greatly accelerate Wi-Fi deployments in high-density locations.
Operators will begin to work out roaming arrangements and settlements, focusing on network architectures that support Wi-Fi Radio Access Network (RAN), 3G RAN, and LTE RAN traffic all fed into the mobile packet core. Wi-Fi will become just another mobile RAN technology. In fact, integration of Wi-Fi RANs into the Mobile Packet Core will become a reality as operators begin to deploy 3GPP compatible WLAN gateways – to keep up with demand.
Multiple system operator deployments of Wi-Fi gear will continue at a brisk pace to enable more smart Wi-Fi cities. Small cell build-out technology will increase by integration into Wi-Fi access points, while light pole based deployments will begin in many geographies as a way to address traffic growth in major metro areas. Lastly, we will start to see 802.11ac gear start to rollout over the course of the year.
The growth of wireless technology in the market is undeniable as it continues to make an impact and improve the way consumers, operators and enterprises operate. Not only does it allow for faster connectivity, but it’s cost effective and has proven to be the solution that works for the challenges of modern living and business. So in essence – I would say Wireless technology and Wi-Fi.
BD: What will the installing of the fibre optic mean to our Wi-Fi system, internet speed, internet costs and the country being connected to the rest of the world?
MF: Fibre will provide another necessary means to connect Africa to the world and just like the current undersea cables will add additional speed, capacity and in maturity, decrease costs of broadband. However, while fibre and 4G/LTE services will certainly help increase network capacity, it still won’t be enough because as history has taught us there is an insatiable appetite for bandwidth and now, for spectrum as well. That is why it is imperative for cellular operators looking to reduce subscriber agitation to add capacity and coverage as fast as possible. The mobile network is growing at an unpredictable pace and therefore an alternative route for data traffic needs to be created, Ruckus Wireless predicts that Wi-Fi could be a possible answer to the pending problem.
Ruckus Wireless also predicts that Wi-Fi capacity will become just as important an issue as Wi-Fi coverage as wireless connectivity will be a possible answer for the congested cellular networks and as the fibre or LTE network may be a possible diversion it will not be enough in the long run.
BD: What is slowing ICT developments in Africa and what can be done to improve the situation?
MF: Regulation and infrastructure are the two biggest challenges that are hampering ICT developments. However, with such restrictions have also come innovations, some which have been firsts for the worlds. Investment and local loop unbundling will go a long way to improve the situation and allow for innovation to continue thriving.
BD: How can Wi-Fi improve broadband delivery and relieve some pressure off of network providers in Africa?
MF: The growth of mobile devices has put tremendous pressure on operators to offer faster data speeds to keep up with insatiable user demand for media-rich applications. Given the enormous installed-base of Wi-Fi chips within virtually every conceivable device on the planet, Wi-Fi represents one of the most expedient and cost-effective ways to increase both capacity and coverage of cellular networks with a tight focus on where traffic is heaviest. Operators are now taking a much more strategic view of Wi-Fi, tapping a new generation of smarter technology that gives it the reliability and sophistication to become a full partner within mobile network infrastructure and on a much larger scale.
Ultimately for the operators, it’s a far more cost effective way to provide access to customers and for customers, it’s a better experience, especially if the 3G networks are congested and hopefully a more cost effective experience as well.
BD: Recent stats showed that mobile data traffic doubled over the last year and we can expect to see further growth due to the increase of smartphone sales. By the end of 2012, global data traffic on mobile networks hit nearly 1,300 petabytes per month and by 2014, the average connection is expected to see 7GB per month. What does Ruckus Wireless predict will change in the telecommunications industry world-wide with the new technologies that are being developed?
MF: The mobile Internet is driving change at a massive pace. Data just gets bigger and bigger, for example, mobile phones get better cameras and bigger images get uploaded all the time onto social media networks – all driving demand more and more capacity. Wi-Fi has taken over from Ethernet as the dominant networking technology and that gap is widening. We see more carriers deploying Wi-Fi as a complementary service to their 3/4G customers as smartphone and tablet users will want Wi-Fi service, not only because it’s frequently faster than 3G, but the termination of unlimited data plans as well as new shared data plans mean that users are going to seek out Wi-Fi for videos and other bandwidth intensive apps. Increasingly, mobile data subscribers will demand Wi-Fi service from their providers.