While most hotspots are relatively similar, there are some key differences that are important to define –
- Public WiFi
- Mobile Hotspots & Offload
Public WiFi Hotspots are the most common, providing the general public an easy way to access the internet. These can be provided by coffee shops, libraries, retail stores, and even municipal governments or ISPs. Typically, these are free, however, in high traffic areas, such as an airport or a hotel, a charge can be required in order to join the network and have internet access. A few of the key factors that make a public WiFi a game changer for users and telcos alike include:
Of course, user experience is key in rolling out any offering, so designing the Public WiFi experience to be as seamless as possible has the potential to transform user adoption and retention for the hosting Telco. For Public WiFi, users should be able to easily access the login screen (or authentication portal) and be able to automatically connect to the WiFi APs in the portal network (as they roam throughout the coverage area), rather than having to re-connect / log in again at each AP.
A pivotal part of managing a public wifi network is the ability to apply policies to network traffic. Service providers should be able to institute policies, such as time duration for access (from minutes to months) or total data consumption (from 1MB to unlimited).
As with any internet connection, users want to know they can rely on a consistent, strong connection. Since public Wi-Fi networks often span different types of WiFi access points (APs), the user experience can potentially be spotty and inconsistent. To avoid delivering a subpar experience and avoid negative brand impressions, use a virtual wifi access gateway that is vendor agnostic, so that policies, features, and security can transcend the limitations of each individual AP.
Mobile Hotspots & Mobile Offload
Mobile hotspots can refer to a few different things – one refers to using LTE, 4G, or 5G and converting this to a Wi-Fi signal, where as the other refers to mobile offload, where LTE, 4G, and 5G traffic is offloaded to local WiFi networks.
For operators, this can work to benefit both parties – offloading cellular traffic makes it easier to free up bandwidth for other users while leasing WiFi bandwidth to other operators can offer a solid stream of income to compliment other WiFi offerings. Plus, WiFi Offload helps address network gaps in areas where cellular reception may be spotty.
Benu Networks supports Mobile Network Offload, in which WiFi connections interwork with 4G/5G mobile core networks. Offload traffic is provided over a separate SSID on the WiFi AP and tunneled back to the Benu SD-Edge platform, much like is done in public WiFi deployments. In these deployments, the Benu platform is referred to as a Trusted Wireless Access Gateway (TWAG). Authentication procedures are based on an EAP (EAP-AKA or EAP-SIM) and 3GPP AAA server or the AAA proxy STa reference interface, enabling the 4G/5G mobile core to authenticate the user via their subscriber identity module (SIM). The TWAG application provides data interworking with mobile packet core using a 4G based S2a interface to the PDN-GW.
Service providers offering Public WiFi or Mobile Network Offload are legally required to support “Lawful Intercept”, which is the ability to provide law enforcement organizations access to subscriber’s online activity and even tap connections for voice, video, and data content. WiFi APs do not have this capability. Benu’s WAG supports Lawful Intercept and its associated interfaces.