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InterDigital, Picochip meld Wi-Fi with femtocells for mobile offload

Dual-radio gateway allows two technologies to run concurrently, creating a super-connection that leverages both licensed and unlicensed bandwidth

A big debate is brewing in the wireless industry over whether femtocells or Wi-Fi will emerge as the key technology for relieving increasingly overtaxed mobile data networks. InterDigital and Picochip are proposing a compromise: use both.

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Today the two companies announced a converged gateway architecture that puts a carrier Wi-Fi access point and a 3G femtocell in the same container. But InterDigital is doing more than just piling two radios onto a Picochip integrated circuit. Itís meshing the two technologies together with radio resource management and policy software that would allow an operator to use both access methods in unison. According to a statement the companies put out today, the dual-radio platform could be used as such:

A smartphone can receive data over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks simultaneously, and the converged gateway can aggregate the two connections to improve quality of service or segregate different applications over different radios. For example, a subscriber could watch a streaming video using the higher bandwidth of Wi-Fi, but use 3G with its better security and billing for the authentication and payment for services. Alternatively, two mediocre channels can be combined to provide higher throughput and reliability to a user. Or you could seamlessly handover from Wi-Fi at home to femtocell to macrocell as you walk out of the door.

Some operators like AT&T have already begun making extensive use of Wi-Fi for mobile data offload, while many carriers have begun offering femtocells as home coverage solutions. In general, though, operators have kept the two technologies separate, using femtocells as a means to extend their voice networks in hard-to-reach places, while using Wi-Fi as means of offloading bulk megabytes. By combining the two, operators could get the advantage of both: a dedicated and secure channel operating over their spectrum that an operator can use for signaling and its own prioritized services and a bulk traffic channel that could carry the lionís share of Internet bound data.

As operators starting offering tiered data plans that prioritize different types of traffic, such a configuration could come in handy. In highly congested areas for instance, operators could reserve 3G or long-term evolution capacity for higher tier customers where it can enforce QoS while shunting lower-tier customers to best-effort Wi-Fi.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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