How a "Wi-Fi first" strategy benefits EMEA MSOs

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How a "Wi-Fi first" strategy benefits EMEA MSOs

By: Steve Davidson, European Marketing Director for Cable, Alcatel-Lucent

From original Alcatel-Lucent TechZine posting

A Wi-Fi first strategy can help multi-system operators (MSOs) remain competitive in the evolving marketplace.  Wi-Fi enabled devices default to using the cable operator’s Wi-Fi network for voice, and cellular equipped devices can switch to cellular when out of Wi-Fi range.

Although nuances in the business drivers for adopting such a strategy vary by region globally, this model turns the traditional cellular voice paradigm on its head.

Just like other communications or media industries, MSOs face a dynamic and extremely competitive market. As a result, in EMEA, they have evolved their end-user offerings to embrace market-leading fixed high speed internet access, Wi-Fi connectivity, and bundled mobile cellular services using mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partnerships.

As the pace of change continues to accelerate, subscribers have made a widespread move to Wi-Fi enabled smartphones and tablets. A European commission study stated that 71% of all EU wireless data traffic in 2012 was delivered to smartphones and tablets using Wi-Fi. This is expected to rise to 78% by 2016.

European MSOs have already invested in Wi-Fi and offer data connectivity services in and out of the home. This not only is a customer retention strategy, but also lets MSOs build out further value added services (VAS) and can reduce data costs of their MVNO agreements.  So if we now contemplate the delivery of voice to these Wi-Fi enabled devices, how do we get started?

Existing Mobility Assets

MSOs in EMEA already have different types of Wi-Fi hotspot locations:

  • Hot spot urban coverage
  • Public venues such as stadiums or stations
  • Community Wi-Fi coverage based on extending residential Wi-Fi with a second SSID

These Wi-Fi hotspot networks have been mainly used to enhance customer experience by extending broadband access outside the home, and to help provide TV Everywhere services.

Some MSOs have also invested in 4G spectrum and tentatively contemplated this to extend fixed services outside of their hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network footprint. If MSOs decide to take a more traditional approach to 4G and deploy mobile coverage using small cells, their own networks can provide backhaul for this traffic.

In addition, most MSOs in EMEA have – or are building – a full MVNO (F-MVNO) network that enables them to deliver cellular-based mobile services to their customers. The costs of maintaining a mobile data and voice partnership with a mobile network operator (MNO) are high. In response, some MSOs use their own Wi-Fi investments to steer (also known as offload) data connections from the MNO cellular network to improve the MVNO business case as well as improve customer experience.

A new opportunity

Both Android OS and Apple iOS recently added native dialer capabilities to their phones’ operating systems. This development paves the way for MSOs to not only offer new voice over Wi-Fi services to tablet and smartphone users, but also steer their own MVNO voice smartphone traffic to use Wi-Fi.  This directly impacts MSO´s bundled mobility offers and increases competitiveness, while also managing costs.

Most EMEA MSOs now have assets in place to build a sustainable mobility strategy.  Some can combine Wi-Fi and 4G small cell networks with F-MVNO agreements to provide both entertainment and communication services to their subscribers at work, at home, and on the move throughout the day.


Being able to control voice communications across multiple wireless assets allows MSOs to adopt a “Wi-Fi first” approach. Subscriber voice calls automatically use MSO Wi-Fi networks. Where the device also has cellular capabilities, calls connect to cellular only when Wi-Fi is unavailable. This concept is also important for converged MNO/MSO operators, who can use all their mobility assets to create a heterogeneous network (HetNet).

Necessary ingredients for a Wi-Fi first approach

1. Quality of Experience
MSOs are already familiar with voice. They deliver fixed services over their HFC networks. Voice, unlike most data services, is a real-time application that requires quality of service to avoid jitter and delay. For MSO Wi-Fi networks to be competitive, the subscribers’ quality of experience using MSO Wi-Fi based voice services must be on par with that of traditional mobile carriers.

Similarly, the end-user experience with the Wi-Fi service mustn’t be any more cumbersome than subscribers are accustomed to. People just want to be able to use their phone without hassles. They don’t want to have to worry about which access technology they are using or perform manual changes as they move in and out of different coverage zones. This means MSO platforms and systems have to be completely automated:

  • Mobile devices must be correctly provisioned
  • They must be able to take advantage of native VoIP dialing capabilities
  • Calls can be managed across different domains

Figure 2 shows a possible high-level Wi-Fi first architecture, including:

  • Native dialing capabilities in the user equipment
  • A mobile device manager to automatically provision devices
  • IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) for call control

Many MSOs are already thinking about deploying IMS capabilities as part of their overall voice renewal plans. Including voice over Wi-Fi and other value-added services such as video calling are a natural fit. Figure 2 also demonstrates that beyond Wi-Fi first schemes, IMS can eventually replace the MVNO operation (2G/3G) as well as the fixed access network.

2. Mobile device manager (MDM)
An MDM system can be used to provision both iOS as Android devices, allowing MSOs to offer cellular, Wi-Fi and hybrid service plans.

The concept can use embedded MDM clients on user devices that allow operator settings to be installed, including Wi-Fi settings, usernames and passwords, and SIP settings.

In addition, the MDM would enable the MSO´s service to assume control of (or replace) the subscriber devices’ native dialers. The dialer ultimately must be capable of both Wi-Fi and circuit-switched calling, along with handovers between Wi-Fi, LTE and 3G domains to create a seamless user experience.

3. IMS
IMS technology can be used as the call control solution for voice calls. In the Wi-Fi first approach described here, IMS will handle all calls originating from the user device while in the packet-switched domain (4G, Wi-Fi).  IMS delivers SMS messages to the device while in the Wi-Fi/LTE/IMS network using an IP short message gateway. It can also allow other IP communication services, such as video calling, to be added easily. IMS is particularly helpful when services are delivered by other access technologies, including 2G/3G, 4G, and fixed access.

Next Steps for Wi-Fi first

Creating a sustainable MSO mobility strategy is complex, and building a Wi-Fi first scheme as part of this strategy will require planning for considerations such as:

  • What Wi-Fi or hybrid cellular service plans should be offered to deliver differentiation and what are the specific use cases?
  • What are the subscriber device requirements for embedded clients and for multiple domain native dialers?
  • What are the provisioning flows for different devices and scenarios?
  • How do these requirements differ from the capabilities of new and existing handsets?
  • What mechanisms are required to handle voice call continuity across Wi-Fi and 2G/3G?
  • Will the MSO use voice over LTE (VoLTE) as an MSO-owned asset?
  • What IMS capabilities are required to adapt to the various subscriptions and scenarios?

 Once these questions have been answered, MSOs are well placed to grasp the current market opportunity of offering voice services via Wi-Fi and leveraging a Wi-Fi first strategy to help remain competitive in the evolving marketplace.

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