Wi-Fi legitimate part of the 5G technology landscape: latest report highlights varying approaches to licensed and unlicensed integration

London, 26 October 2018 – The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has today published a report which outlines the options and alternative approaches available for combining access over Wi-Fi-based and cellular-based networks in the run up to 5G. In a culmination of two years of analysis on the convergence of unlicensed and licensed technologies, the WBA’s “Unlicensed Integration with 5G Networks” report defines three alternative approaches to integration, and describes key requirements for each approach. The WBA is calling for the ecosystem to work together to put these different approaches into practice through trials and engagement together with other key industry bodies.

The report builds on the WBA’s previous report, “5G Networks – The Role of Wi-Fi and Unlicensed Technologies” to provide an analysis of the varied approaches for integrating cellular and Wi-Fi networks:

  • Access Centric Solutions integrate Wi-Fi into the cellular access-stratum. These approaches look to opportunistically use the Wi-Fi access network to enhance the core 3GPP access proposition.
  • Core Centric Solutions integrate Wi-Fi into the cellular non-access stratum core network. These approaches look to define the Wi-Fi access network as a peer of the 3GPP access network and enable them to be integrated into 3GPP core systems.
  • Above-the-core Centric Solutions integrate Wi-Fi above-the-core network using IETF defined multi-path protocols. These approaches look to leverage the Wi-Fi access network as a peer of the 3GPP core network, but without the limitations of requiring integration into a 3GPP core system.

The WBA white paper recommends and advocates integration solutions which treat Wi-Fi as a peer of the cellular network, believing that core-centric and above-the-core centric solutions will become the two main integration methodologies used by the industry based on the rate of market adoption. In order to realise the full benefits of Wi-Fi integration with 5G, the WBA has outlined a series of next steps which include further investigation into the instrumentation capabilities of Wi-Fi networks that can support various policy outcomes; the definition of a common policy framework to deliver enhanced experiences over multi-path solutions; as well as liaison with other key industry bodies to ensure stakeholder alignment.

“As the largest internet access capability, Wi-Fi is a legitimate part of the 5G technology landscape. In fact, Wi-Fi’s own generational leap to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is already demonstrating that Wi-Fi can support the delivery of some 5G use cases today, in a way that is economically viable,” said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the WBA. “The WBA is advocating a future of collaboration and integration of Wi-Fi and 5G cellular technologies to realise their full potential, but the industry must work together. The paper offers a practical guide to each different way of integrating Wi-Fi with 5G networks, while also inviting the ecosystem to become involved in trials to make it more effective to develop this technology in the next year once standards have been defined.”

Shenwai continues, “Any operator CTO teams that are defining their future strategies will be thinking about the different ways of integrating unlicensed and licenced technologies. Yet they are at a crossroads: wait for 5G to be fully operations and available, or make investments in unlicensed technologies now that will pay off in the future?” This paper not only shows how these teams can capitalise on investments in Wi-Fi that will still be relevant for 5G, but also helps them to understand how the pieces fit together. We invite the industry to work with us to develop a common architecture, participate in testbeds and trials, and also with other forums to solve any final pain points.”

The latest report “Unlicensed Integration with 5G Networks” is available to download here.

For more information or to get involved with the WBA 5G work group, contact the WBA Program Management Office at pmo@wballiance.com

About the Wireless Broadband Alliance 

Founded in 2003, the mission of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) is to resolve business issues and enable collaborative opportunities for service providers, enterprises and cities, enabling them to enhance the customer experience on Wi-Fi and significant adjacent technologies.

Building on our heritage of NGH and carrier Wi-Fi, the WBA will continue to drive and support the adoption of Next Generation Wi-Fi services across the entire public Wi-Fi ecosystem, having a focus on four major programmes: Carrier Wi-Fi Services, Next Generation Wireless & 5G, IoT, and Connected Cities. Today, membership includes major fixed operators such as BT, Comcast and Charter Communication; seven of the top 10 mobile operator groups (by revenue) and leading technology companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Huawei Technologies, Google and Intel. WBA member operators collectively serve more than 2 billion subscribers and operate more than 30 million hotspots globally.

The WBA Board includes AT&T, Boingo Wireless, BT, Cisco, Comcast, Intel, KT Corporation, Liberty Global, NTT DOCOMO and Orange. For a complete list of current WBA members, please click here.

Follow Wireless Broadband Alliance at:





Media contact:

Nicole Louis


+44 203 824 9200