Wi-Fi as a Commercial Service: New Technology and Policy Implications
19 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2013 Last revised: 21 Mar 2015
Date Written: March 22, 2013
While Wi-Fi has enjoyed explosive growth and deployment for use in residential homes, the rollout of commercial Wi-Fi service has been more limited. Part of the holdback on large-scale commercial deployment has been the strategic concern that the commons model to spectrum management lacks the incentives for service providers to invest due to the limited ability to manage interference in the unlicensed band. Today, however, this situation appears to have changed. To explain the new confidence by service providers in commercial Wi-Fi, we analyze the activities of the Wi-Fi Alliance and IEEE 802.11 standards body to show how these groups essentially replicate many, but not all, of the functions traditionally employed by an effective band manager that is optimizing efficiency on a licensed spectrum block more typically associated with the deployment of commercial services. Consequently, with the Wi-Fi ecosystem functioning as an effective spectrum manager, we conclude that the service provider investment in Public Wi-Fi networks is rational and the risk posed by saturation or overuse has been reduced to an acceptable level. We then examine the strategic implications of this finding on the Wi-Fi platform. We discuss how the requirements from service providers are already significantly influencing the evolution of the Wi-Fi standard, and attempt to address the risks and liabilities associated with the unlicensed spectrum management model. Thus, service providers increasingly need functionality in Wi-Fi technology to manage interference, and monitor and improve network performance. We discuss the current ideas under discussion for the next version of Wi-Fi to support both commercial Wi-Fi requirements, which address the interference concerns, but only up to a point as the unlicensed model intrinsically leaves some risk to participants of spectrum saturation through overuse.
Keywords: Wireless, spectrum management, unlicensed band, commercial WiFi
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