Aruba Bridges 5G, Wi-Fi 6; HPE Launches 5G Portfolio

Customers are adopting Wi-Fi 6 faster than any other Wi-Fi standard, according to Aruba executives.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

March 10, 2020

5 Min Read

If 5G is the question, Wi-Fi 6 is the answer for Aruba Networks.

The vendor on Tuesday announced Aruba Air Pass, a roaming service designed to create a “seamless handoff” for cellular subscribers entering Wi-Fi networks. Air Pass works in conjunction with a new radio resource management service – Aruba Air Slice – to ensure application performance.

Larry Lunetta, Aruba’s vice president of WLAN and security solutions marketing, said the announcement gives telcos new monetization opportunities.


Aruba’s Larry Lunetta

“The telcos are faced with the daunting task of trying to build a very capital-intensive set of new capabilities for 5G and chasing a standard that is still being certified and worked on through the 3GPP organization,” Lunetta told Channel Partners. “They need to do this because their revenue from their traditional access services is plateauing.”

Imagine an employee starting a phone call in their car and then entering their work office. The goal of Air Pass is to ensure that their device automatically authenticates to the Wi-Fi network and doesn’t drop the the call when they enter the building.

“With Air Pass, that’s all done seamlessly behind behind the curtain, if you will. So the call’s not dropped, and all of a sudden you’re doing Wi-Fi calling based on your authentication to the network using the same credentials,” Lunetta said.

Aruba is using Wi-Fi 6 as a 5G on-ramp was a cost-effective alternative to deploying indoor small cells or distributed antenna systems (DAS).

“For enterprise customers, you don’t have to worry about managing separate services — Wi-Fi and 5G. Wi-Fi 6 is still a lot cheaper to implement inside the building than a full 5G network build-out,” Lunetta said. “So there are economic benefits of being able to seamlessly manage these networks.”

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And Lunetta said Wi-FI 6 provides security benefits through Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) and Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE), in addition to “gigabit-class performance.”

“Frankly, our measurements are that whatever 5G is claiming, Wi-Fi 6 is already delivering,” he said.

Lunetta said the new service gives partners an additional reason to move customers to Wi-Fi 6, which he said is enjoying a faster adoption rate than any other Wi-Fi standard.

“Partners are certainly aggressively introducing and provisioning customers with Wi-Fi 6,” he said.

Layer 3 Communications is a regional network infrastructure engineering company that serves K-12, higher education and Fortune 500 customers in the Southeast and Texas. And for many of the customers that maintain large campuses, the move to 5G presents obstacles.

Craig Wall, who serves as vice president and general manager of the western region, echoed concerns that other telco experts have expressed concerns about the ability of 5G to penetrate buildings.


Layer 3’s Craig Wall

“These buildings have a lot of steel and concrete and multiple floors. The construction of these buildings doesn’t lend itself well to the cellular signals getting to everywhere in the buildings,” Wall told Channel Partners. “And with 5G, that problem is going to be even worse. The spectrum being used by 5G is great for the speed, but it doesn’t penetrate these buildings even as well as the 4G did.”

He said Air Pass will complement the existing Wi-Fi solutions that Layer 3 already sells. Sales engineer Doug Minderhout said customers may prefer the prospect of expanding their their Wi-Fi offering rather than investing in 5G equipment inside their campuses.

“Typically an enterprise customer will already be driving toward a voice-grade deployment. But a lot of the LTE customers or even some large campus customers may have …

… voice-grade in some areas but not all,” Minderhout said. “And I see this driving across-the-board, voice-grade coverage for the entire system.”

Minderhout said that while mass 5G adoption in the enterprise might come down to market initiatives that Apple and the carriers drive, customers are considering 5G as their workforces become more and more mobile and focused on bring-your-own-device (BYOD).


Layer 3’s Doug Minderhout

“They’re going to be looking at [5G] heavily as a way to facilitate and enable that mobile workforce,” he said.

Jeffrey Schwartz wrote last fall about the implications of Wi-Fi 6, which is known more technically as 802.11ax. The Wi-Fi alliance last year announced a program that will certify vendors according to a Wi-Fi 6 industry standard. Aruba last week announced that all of its wireless LAN access points meet the new standard.

Aruba’s parent company, HPE, on the same day announced a portfolio for as-a-service 5G offerings. That includes the new 5G Core Stack and a platform that enables Virtual Radio Access Networks (vRAN).

“Openness is essential to the evolutionary nature of 5G, and with HPE 5G Core Stack, telcos can reduce operational costs, deploy features faster and keep themselves open to multiple networks and technologies while avoiding being locked-in to a single vendor approach,” said Phil Mottram, vice president and general manager of HPE’s communications and media solutions business unit. “HPE has one of the broadest 5G portfolios in the market and is uniquely positioned to help telcos build an open, multivendor 5G core, optimize the edge with vRAN, and deliver connectivity and new compute services to the enterprise using MEC and Wi-Fi 6.”

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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