HomeMobile EuropeVirgin WiFi move could herald small cell rollouts

    Virgin WiFi move could herald small cell rollouts


    The news that Virgin has confirmed that it is considering a nationwide WiFi network has mainly been reported from its impact on the consumer market.

    But it has implications for the mobile industry too, as operators consider ways to increase network capacity and coverage most cost-effectively.

    For a while now BelAir Networks has been providing its WiFi infrastructure to provide mobile data offload services for mobile operators in the USA. Its WiFi site in Times Square, New York, offloads millions of sessions a day from the mobile network.

    Although Belair has mainly been working with US cable operators, Belair’s CTO Stephen Rayment told Mobile Europe last month that the company has also been talking to cable operators in Europe about using the cable infrastructure for mobile backhaul and offload, but also to provide mobile operators with sites, power and backhaul for small cells.

    Cable operators already work on a wholesale basis for mobile backhaul, but this takes things a step further. Belair is marketing a dual mode WiFi/picocell product that can sit on overhead cables, or in kerb side boxes or cabinets. At present BelAir is deploying strand (overhead cable) mounted radios with CableVision for 17,000 outdoor WiFi sites, with a 300 metre range.

    Rayment said that he could see operators being able to automatically route calls over WiFi or the mobile network – rather than that being a decision the device would make, as currently. That would give operators better control of traffic, moving policy control to the edge and backing up high value data accounts with boosted QoS.

    The advantage of the cable network is that it has reach, but also that its existing plant can also supply power to the WiFi/picocell unit, reducing the site cost for cable operators and their mobile operator wholesale customers. Rayment said that using cable plant solves the three main problems for operators as they consider installing thousands of picocells – location, power and backhaul.

    So, the question is – are we about to see Virgin Media use its infrastructure not just to provide public WiFi, but to add another site solution for mobile operators looking to use small cells to add capacity and QoS control?