A guide to Wi-Fi-cellular integration in the enterprise

Wi-Fi-cellular integration could address the influx of mobile devices in the enterprise. While there's no sure-fire integration strategy, there are technologies that can help.

With the uptake of mobile device usage in the workplace, poor indoor cellular penetration has become increasingly

obvious and a growing problem for many organizations. As a result, these organizations are looking to extend cellular connectivity within the corporate campus, yet for the most part, the technology to fully integrate cellular and Wi-Fi doesn’t exist. Fortunately, there has long been technology that brings cellular into the campus in a more dependable way. In this guide, you'll read a series of resources from SearchNetworking.com that will help you understand these Wi-Fi-cellular integration strategies, and how to tell that story to your clients.

The benefits of Wi-Fi-cellular integration

By default, most Wi-Fi-enabled smart phones and tablet PCs attempt to connect to a local Wi-Fi network before the cellular network. Consequently, this pushes additional traffic onto the corporate network. Even if users opt out of connecting to the Wi-Fi network, poor cellular reception within corporate buildings may give them no choice in the matter. Therefore, extending the cellular network onto the corporate campus can help limit the additional burden placed on the Wi-Fi network by mobile devices.

Wi-Fi-cellular integration can also lead to increased user productivity. When mobile devices currently switch from one network to another, they must first disconnect and then reauthenticate. Giving users the ability to connect to the cellular network from within the office enables them to stay connected to corporate applications even when they leave the office.

Productivity and reachability can also be improved by eliminating desk phones and shifting all calls to dual-mode smart phones. This shift can cut costs by consolidating communications infrastructure, fees and maintenance. For example, unified communications systems can leverage the location-based technologies built into mobile devices for the automation of presence and status.

Read more about using mobile presence to improve unified communications.

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How to extend wireless cellular coverage: DAS or femtocell

There are several technologies that can be used to improve in-building cellular reception, one of which is a distributed antenna system (DAS). In a DAS, an antenna mounted outside the building picks up the carrier’s signal, which is then amplified and rebroadcast inside the building by a second antenna and smaller cellular repeaters throughout the building.  

Learn about the pros and cons of distributed antenna systems and the costs associated with the technology.

Deploying a DAS within an enterprise facility requires cooperation from the mobile operator. However, if the operator refuses deployment, there is an alternative. Some vendors offer DAS products that use Ethernet cabling instead of expensive fiber. DAS vendor, MobileAccess goes one step further with MobileAccessVE, an enterprise-friendly, in-building wireless solution. Rather than stringing fiber optic or coax cabling through the facility, network engineers can connect the components of MobileAccessVE with the Ethernet links of an existing enterprise wireless LAN network.

Learn more about distributed antenna systems and in-building wireless.

You can also choose to back haul cellular traffic across the Internet using a femtocell. Femtocells receive and transmit calls back to the service provider through the Internet via a wired broadband connection. Essentially, femtocells are indoor cellular towers. Traffic transmitted to the carrier via the Internet is not charged at cellular rates, but it does increase the load on the broadband connection.

Learn more about how femtocells work.

Enabling seamless roaming in Wi-Fi-cellular integration

In addition to in-building cellular reception, fixed mobile convergence requires you to deploy a technology that enables the seamless transition between the cellular and Wi-Fi networks. A fixed-mobile controller does just that. This technology sits on the wired network and either replaces or works in conjunction with the PBX. Calls within the enterprise are routed between target phones, but outside calls and Internet access are routed through the enterprise broadband connection. This is made possible by Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), a 3GPP standard for handing off cellular calls to “unlicensed” networks, such as corporate WLANs.

Learn more about fixed-mobile controllers and unlimited mobile access.

In the future, seamless roaming between Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G networks will be enabled by Hotspot 2.0 (HS 2.0). Developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Association, HS 2.0 relies on the recently approved IEEE 802.11u protocol to enable communication between capable devices and access points, which allow for automated discovery, access authorization and provisioning. Thus, HS 2.0-capable devices will be able to seamlessly switch from a cellular to a Wi-Fi network (or vice versa), without additional user sign-on and authentication which can disrupt the connection.

Learn more about hotspot 2.0 and Wi-Fi/cellular integration.

Creating a wireless connection control plan

Providing in-building Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity can raise the question, “Which network do I connect to?” Decisions about cellular vs. Wi-Fi currently depend first on location and mobility. Yet as mobile devices connect to both network types and even roam automatically between them, it will also be necessary to define policies for when specific connections and roaming will occur.

Learn more about creating enterprise wireless connection policy.

This was first published in February 2012

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