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Technology aimed at pro-actively and cost-effectively addressing the lack of mobile spectrum

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VAST Networks engineers the smartest, wireless dumb pipe
VAST Networks engineers the smartest, wireless dumb pipe

Aimed at addressing South Africa’s spectrum shortage challenges and facilitating access to affordable connectivity, VAST Networks (VAST) – Africa’s public Wi-Fi provider – has developed the continent’s first, true carrier-grade ‘offload’ network.

The technology has been designed to seamlessly move traffic off the networks of mobile or enterprise network operators’ and onto VAST’s secure Wi-Fi network, freeing up valuable, scarce spectrum. Traffic can be rerouted back on to the operator’s network, equally seamlessly.

This technology was developed primarily by VAST and implemented via its two major network platforms, namely Accuris AccuROAM™ (providing authentication and authorisation services) and Benu Networks xMEG gateways. This enables scalable aggregation services that mask the Wi-Fi network elements as well as maintain the integrity of the security and management of the Wi-Fi network.

“Wi-Fi’s traditional obstacle is on-boarding users. By enabling this functionality, we can now offer our internet service providers a secure, seamless way of authenticating their customers using their individual SIM cards,” explained Déan Manefeldt, Principal Radio Network Architect at VAST Networks. “The deployment of our architecture also allows us to easily on-board users while enabling mobile offload for any operator onto their own network. This process can be done very quickly, usually within a week on our Passpoint™/secure SSID. This lowers the need for cross boundary skills as each party need only focus on the function it excels at and costs required by the operator.”

This technology is available across VAST’s network of 2,500 high-density locations such as key shopping centres, hospitals, major transport hubs, offices, hotels and restaurants, townships and inner-city residentials, amongst others. While on VAST’s network, users are likely to benefit from better coverage and connectivity speeds, enhancing their overall experience. An added advantage for users is the opportunity to connect via existing devices as smartphones that are five years or newer, will be compatible.

“The critical challenge of limited spectrum is evidenced in the number of 2G devices still in prevalent use, the lack of progress on digital television migration and the constraints in the roll-out of 4G and 5G services. This is impacting the ability of operators to provide mobile data at lower costs and is inhibiting South Africa’s global competitiveness. We are therefore delighted to introduce this cost-effective solution to the local market as well as international markets,” said Khetan Gajjar, Chief Technical Officer at VAST Networks.

Besides the ability to ‘offload’, one of the unique features of this technology is the ability to accommodate multiple operators on the same network and simultaneously redirect traffic across multiple users. Additionally, operators enjoy wider benefits and control as they:

· don’t need to reconfigure devices;
· can easily update user profiles ensuring full control and the highest levels of privacy; and
· can make determinations about the quality of service at locations.

“Mobile devices account for more than 75% of Internet traffic and with South Africans exceedingly connecting on the go, the need for service providers to pioneer innovative and cost-effective ways to connect customers is vital to achieving sustainable business success. We are confident of this technology’s potential to drive economic progress and its ability to seamlessly integrate the next generation of wireless communication into South Africa’s telecommunications mix,” added Gajjar.

Speaking on the deployment process, Tino Bailey, Product Manager: Access & Network Products at VAST Networks, commented, “It has been an exciting and satisfying journey and the ability to rapidly deploy this pioneering service, thanks to our centralised architecture and control, makes us very proud. The rollout of mobile data ‘offload’ as a high quality broadband service will provide an invaluable complementary service to operators.”

Commenting on the suitability of the technology for global markets, Gajjar concluded; “Our model is also cost-effective to implement and thus commercially viable for any network, in any terrain, in any country. In a bid to progress the ICT sector and add value across societies in different geographies, we are already consulting to international operators who are keen to introduce the technology in their respective countries.”

Edited by Neo Sesinye
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