Wireless gateway marries Wi-Fi, cellular; eases authentication, billing

Ruckus Wireless has taken a big step in making Wi-Fi hotspots an integrated part of a mobile operators wireless connectivity. The company announced at Mobile World Congress a new wireless gateway that can manage vast numbers of access points and clients, while integrating critical task like authenticating, securing and billing with the core cellular network.

The result, according to the Sunnyvale, Calif., Wi-Fi vendor, will let mobile device subscribers move more easily between cellular and Wi-Fi sessions for data and even voice, and let mobile operators deploy better Wi-Fi access faster.

The new Ruckus Wireless Services Gateway won the MWC's 2011 Global Mobile Award for "Best Mobile Broadband Technology."

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Many mobile operators increasingly are turning to Wi-Fi as a cost-effective way to offload data traffic from their laden cellular networks wherever possible. At Mobile World Congress this week, Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile Communications Corp., outlined plans for the world's largest mobile operator by subscribers to deploy 1 million Wi-Fi access points in high-density areas over the next three years. In his keynote speech, Jianzhou said Wi-Fi is critical in supporting the subscriber demand for data access.

Significantly, he called on the wireless industry and mobile device builders to make improvements in two key areas. They need to embed Wi-Fi as "the default function" in handsets and create a much easier, more convenient Wi-Fi authentication process, he said.

Ruckus seems to have been listening. The new Ruckus Wireless Services Gateway (WSG) sits between Wi-Fi access points and the cellular core network, combining scalable WLAN controller features with 3GPP WLAN access gateway features.

The WSG supports a range of client authentication protocols, including 802.1x EAP-SIM/AKA, MAC address, and WISPr-based captive portal. It can support various hotspots business models.

"It's a completely new codebase that uses a very lightweight protocol between the access points and the gateway, the entire four-way 802.11 handshake to the access point, " says David Callisch, Ruckus vice president of marketing. "It also has a distributed database (the same one Facebook uses) that syncs across multiple gateways so you can easily cluster these things with nearly no configuration."

A local cache on the WSG lets it support "seamless" mobility across Wi-Fi access points for both SIM and non-SIM mobile devices, offloading these events from the core network.

The new gateway supports several traffic forwarding options, so traffic can be handled as needed either by the access point or the router. Secure tunnels link access points, gateways and the mobile network core.

The gateway can manage tens of thousands of access points and hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi clients, according to Ruckus. The new box is intended to work with Ruckus' line of ZoneFlex indoor and outdoor access points. The vendor says it has tweaked both its smart antenna technology and its mesh backhaul capability so that in future they will work well with small-cell base stations, which are being deployed to extend cellular coverage and improve throughput.

When a client device is activated by a subscriber, Ruckus' patented automatic client provisioning configures the device, without involving the user, who no longer has to sign in every time he accesses a hotspot.

The new gateway is being trialed by two Tier 1 operators, in Europe and Asia, according to Callisch.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

E-mail: john_cox@nww.com

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This story, "Wireless gateway marries Wi-Fi, cellular; eases authentication, billing" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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