Alcatel-Lucent marks new territory with WiFi Boost

Alcatel-Lucent is marking the birth of a “huge innovation” at Mobile World Congress with the launch of WiFi Boost

Fed up of poor WiFi performance at work and home? Hampered by slow DSL “backhaul” from your router? Would you like to boost your indoor cellular data performance as well as get more speed from your WiFi connection? Alcatel-Lucent thinks it has an answer with two technology innovations that form a strategy called Wireless Unified Networks.

wireless unified networksAlcatel-Lucent has been taking a look at WiFi and cellular, and thinks it has come up with a new way to boost the performance of both. It has developed a technique it is calling WiFi Boost that delivers signal from separate WiFi routers and a cellular femtocells onto devices. This is no mere carrier aggregation, though. Instead, WiFi Boost splits the physical bearers, using the WiFi AP for the downlink and a small cell for the uplink channel. This, according to Alu can increase downlink performance by 20-70% and increase uplink speeds on the cell edge by 10-50 times.

Mike Schabel, GM at Alcatel-Lucent, said, “It turns out much of the  WiFi challenge in congestion and interference is related to the uplink. Simply by taking the uplink to cellular we can get a 2x range improvement on WiFi and 20-70% downlink improvement over the shared channel for downlink.”

The company says it will have WiFi Boost available by the second half of 2015. It requires a software upgrade either on the H-eNodeB or in the core on the EPC. It also requires an OS upgrade on the device.

Although the company markets dual-mode cellular-WiFi small cells, WiFi Boost is meant as an enhancement to existing WiFi – hence its name – by combining a cellular connection with WiFi access. Where there is a greenfield instalment, a multimode cell would still be applicable, Schabel said.

You can see a demo on the Alcatel-Lucent booth. Qualcomm is also showing a demo on its booth that uses a commercially available Compact Metrocell from Alcatel-Lucent and a standard commercial WiFi access point. It is showing 600Mbps throughputs, streaming UDP. Alcatel-Lucent’s TCP-based demo showed TMN a combined 150Mbps downlink performance – a 70% gain on the downlink.

Schabel said that deployment could be by “daisy chaining” a femtocell from an Ethernet port of a home router. In the enterprise where there is WiFi already. The company has also announced a partnership with Ruckus Wireless (one of its key WiFi technology partners) to push WiFi Boost into enterprise deployments. Schabel argued that here operators would be given the ability to enhance sales to businesses that already have WiFi deployments, by releasing a lot of the uplink date companies have to the cellular connection.

The difference for the operator is that control of the session now resides in its own core, giving it a service control capability – for instance for the provision of carrier-based Voice over WiFi.

“Sometimes innovation is easy.”

The second branch of Alu’s WUN is an LTE License Assisted Access capability that it is calling Cellular Boost. Here the company is following the standards for LAA being mapped out so far by within 3GPP R13 – with a “listen before talk” capability built in. Schabel said the company would have this available in its small cell products in 1Q 2016.

The LAA product is a standards based product that Schabel said would be “on the same timescale as everyone”. WiFi Boost however is a proprietary technology from Alu that Schabel called a “huge innovation”. He also said it was “embarrassingly easy to do”. Contradiction? No, he said. “Sometimes innovation is easy.”