Ericsson has agreed to purchase BelAir Networks to help boost its Wi-Fi credentials, the cellular gear maker said on Tuesday. Three weeks ago my colleague Kevin Fitchard said Ericsson was planning to buy BelAir, and it looks like nothing gummed it up. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this deal was all about Wi-Fi and the changing needs of the mobile operator.
Wi-Fi offload has been a big trend in the last two years as operators try to defuse the data demands of their customers by shunting packets over to in-home, corporate or campus Wi-Fi networks. However, cellular operators have also been reluctant to give up control and the potential revenue associated with sending traffic across their cellular networks. With BelAir, which makes Wi-Fi access points already in use for city-wide Wi-Fi networks for wireline cable providers Comcast and Cablevision, Ericsson can give operators control and more capacity.
BelAir also has IP related to its equipment that makes it less obtrusive and can also create a larger Wi-Fi mesh network that more closely resembles a carrier’s cellular network. On a BelAir network it’s possible to configure it so moving from one hot spot to another is seamless and doesn’t require another sign on. This is great for consumers, who can use Wi-Fi on trains for example, but it’s also great for operators, because they can track a subscriber through the Wi-Fi network. As Kevin pointed out three weeks ago:
From Ericsson’s perspective BelAir’s technology may be an easy way for it to break into metro Wi-Fi without cannibalizing its core product line. By slotting its own cellular radios into BelAir access points, it can sell operators both Wi-Fi and cellular upgrades in a single package.
This is a good deal for both Ericsson and BelAir, and a resounding success for the idea of Wi-Fi offload. It seems crazy that only four years ago Verizon wasn’t allowing Wi-Fi radios on its handsets.