The avalanche in mobile data consumption in recent years has put tremendous stress on cellular networks, and this trend is expected to continue as demand for mobile data roughly doubles every year. This means increase of 1000 fold in mobile data consumption within 10 years (Qualcomm - “The 1000x Mobile Data Challenge”). To satisfy this increasing demand for mobile data additional network resources/improvements are needed including: additional spectrum, better system spectral efficiency (bps/Hz) and spatial reuse of the spectrum. This means that the capacity density (Mbps/m2) of future mobile and wireless networks needs to increase significantly to accommodate the expected mobile data demand. Current 3G/4G cellular networks will not be able to satisfy this demand mainly because of lack of (licensed) spectrum. Therefore, reusing the scarce wireless spectrum over small areas using small-cells is one of the most promising approaches to alleviate the capacity crunch. Small-cells will integrate both LTE and WiFi technologies taking advantage of licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
WiFi has become the connection of choice (when available) for many users, as most smartphone, tablets and notebooks are equipped with WiFi. With half of all IP traffic expected to be delivered over WiFi within 3 years, WiFi access points and network management software are increasingly important to carriers. The addition of over 600 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands has the potential to alleviate the capacity crunch. From that reason, many operators have embraced WiFi as another radio access technology that eventually will be integrated to the operator network as part the service offering. However, for this to happen, several developments need to occur to overcome some of the limitations of current WiFi networking, mainly security and user experience. Some of the new developments in WiFi networking that are important for small-cells and HetNets include: the new 802.11ac standard for very high speed networking, Hotspot 2.0 Next Generation Hotspot for cellular-like experience, and WiFi offload and WiFi-3GPP network integration.