Cellular, Wi-Fi clash heats up
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the chief information officer of San Jose called for vendors to develop Wi-Fi phones for the homeless.
“What a powerful concept to give a homeless person a Wi-Fi calling smartphone that can charge by solar power, albeit slowly, and has data about city services stored on it — suddenly we have transformed that person’s life,” said Vijay Sammeta, in a panel discussion at a carrier Wi-Fi event here.
Wi-Fi calling is “not quite there in capabilities such as roaming, but it may be carrier grade in the next five years,” said Whitey Bluestein, principal of consulting firm Bluestein & Associates LLC.
Sammeta said Wi-Fi calling will be inevitable to handle urban demand in places such as Times Square. “It is an amazing and powerful concept that has to happen for density and equity reasons,” he said.
However he warned free metro Wi-Fi services are not really free. “If you are ever in a convention center that has free Wi-Fi, look at the user agreement — we monetize it on the back end because the access points and back-ends aren’t free,” he said.
Cities large and small are getting into the Wi-Fi game. Earlier this year, Los Angeles put out a request for proposals for a wireless network that would cover its notorious sprawl.
The city wants a net completed within five years with at least a Gbit/second throughput and a basic level of service free. Proposals are due by November 12.
For its part, World Global Network has developed a smartphone that aims to move calls from a third party carrier network to its own unlicensed 5 GHz net. It will use 802.11u and Hotspot 2.0 standards on its so-called MCell 5G network.
Users buy a sleek access point (shown above) the company designed which acts as a home base station to make smartphone connections over Wi-Fi. The company promises to give users a discount on their $12/month bills depending on the extent traffic is routed on to its MCell network.
Such Wi-Fi services could disrupt existing cellular carriers, particularly with the advent of LTE services over unlicensed bands such as 5 GHz.
LTE and Wi-Fi proponents are already sparing over spectrum at the FCC. The potential for disruption will increase when true 5G networks are turned on starting in 2020 because they will support an even wider range of licensed and unlicensed bands.
Existing carriers are responding by pushing Wi-Fi in tandem with their existing networks. They see it as both a new opportunity and a way to offload the rising tide of mobile data that has been swamping their networks for years.
For example, AT&T created a smart cities group earlier this year to find new applications for its cellular and growing Wi-Fi networks. It has had a smart home division for a few years. AT&T sees an opportunity integrating many local, often Wi-Fi networks, over its wide-area cellular network.
"To date the Internet of Things has been a lot of point solutions, but the future is about integrating many getting disparate silos together and sharing data," said Chris Penrose, vice president of the IoT group at AT&T. "I believe the connected city is where all this comes together…the connected car, home, wearables," he said.
Wi-Fi is also a part of the strategy for expanding Comcast’s reach in the smart home. Eric Schaefer, senior vice president of communications, data and mobility at Comcast showed a video of future uses where home Wi-Fi systems help complete voice and video calls among other uses. Comcast made a point of integrating its Wi-Fi services into its back-end network to assure customers of the net’s security, he added.
GE hopes to get a piece of the action, building on its LED-based smart lighting program now in trials in San Diego and Jacksonville.
"City lighting has constant power with nodes safely 10 meters above ground on average," said Rick Freeman, general manager of GE’s intelligent cities group. "We lower energy use for lighting by 50-75%, so you can put new devices [on streetlight poles] – it’s an incredibly powerful piece of real estate, but whether the metro network or smart lighting comes first doesn’t matter," he said.
"Some of the most valuable scenarios for the smart home are not that different than those of smart cities," said Michael Richmond, executive director of the Open Interconnect Consortium developing application-layer standards for IoT.
"Today you can do these IoT projects, but you need a level of system integration expertise that can be daunting," said Richmond. "It’s like when we were in the early days of LANs with Token Ring, Ethernet and TCP/IP," he said.
"In a few years all these things will get sorted out so that just like anyone can put up a Web site today, I think in a few years people will be able to create IoT projects and scale them up as needed if they picked the right protocols," he added.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times