The global count of smartphone mobile network subscriptions is projected to exceed a staggering 7.7 billion by 2028, up from 6.4 billion in 2022. This expansion of mobile network users and devices, including IoT technologies, has created a pressing need for enhanced 5G networks that address capacity, coverage, and data congestion challenges. In today's interconnected world, users expect seamless connectivity, speed, and uninterrupted services across access networks. Fortunately, the coexistence of Wi-Fi and cellular technologies like 4G/5G offers a unique solution to meet these demands.

Integrating Wi-Fi infrastructure with 5G core networks, facilitated by a non-third generation partnership project (3GPP) interworking function (N3IWF), enables secure and seamless access to the 5G core from untrusted networks. This innovative gateway ensures a flawless user experience regardless of handover scenarios. The gateway authenticates sessions, establishes secure tunnels for data transmission, and leverages existing infrastructure. The cost-effective solution improves network coverage in crowded areas and benefits mobile network operators (MNOs). With features like secure registration, authentication, and enforcement of Quality of Service (QoS), users can securely access the 5G core with enhanced network performance and data privacy.

Navigating Untrusted Non-3GPP Networks

MNOs and businesses face challenges unifying different access networks, particularly due to the untrusted nature of Wi-Fi networks. These networks operate on an unlicensed spectrum, leading to potential interference and performance issues. Enforcing policies on Wi-Fi networks is difficult, hindering the ability to meet user expectations. However, optimizing Wi-Fi hotspot capacity and implementing seamless handover to the 5G network can improve performance and maintain a consistent user experience. To ensure a guaranteed quality of experience, the convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G networks through a gateway is necessary. This integration provides a seamless network transition and delivers a superior user experience. Device eco-system readiness to interwork with N3IWF is critical for successful 5G Core services adoption for both trusted and untrusted networks.

Exploring Wi-Fi and 5G Integration

As mentioned above, integrating an untrusted WLAN network with the 5G core provides numerous benefits, including secure access, improved network performance, and cost-effective coverage in crowded areas. In addition, it enables unified registration, secure data transportation, and a seamless user experience while enforcing QoS for different applications. This option delivers seamless handover between Wi-Fi and cellular technologies, empowering users to transition seamlessly and unlock the full potential of industrial IoT and mobile broadband services. By deploying the gateway, MNOs and businesses can overcome capacity challenges, expand their market share, and improve customer satisfaction. This gateway concept offers a platform-agnostic and cloud-native approach, ensuring optimal performance and flexibility for technology and service providers.

Unifying Access Networks with Wipro and Intel

The collaboration between Wipro and Intel showcases a successful case study in securely unifying different access networks. The Wipro and Intel collaboration includes the N3IWF Gateway, enabling secure access to the 5G core network from untrusted Wi-Fi connections. This gateway ensures secure registration, authentication, and enforcement of QoS for user equipment accessing the 5G core from untrusted WLAN. By leveraging Intel technologies, such as 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Ethernet 800 Series Network Adapters, Wipro achieved high throughput to 5G core networks. The innovative gateway adheres to industry standards and N3IWF NF, is implemented with complete adherence to cloud-native principles, and can be deployed on Intel-based platforms. This cloud-native and container-native solution optimizes performance, addresses coverage and capacity challenges, and reduces operational costs. Overall, the Wipro and Intel network solution provides a secure and efficient way to unify different access networks, enables MNOs and businesses to enhance their network capabilities, improves coverage and capacity, and optimizes costs.

Enabling Cellular Co-existence

This collaborative network solution offers many benefits, including enhanced coverage, secure access, and improved quality of experience. Securely accessing the 5G core from untrusted Wi-Fi connections enables seamless integration and enhanced performance, allowing users to access all services on the 5G network. This solution is ideal for MNOs and businesses looking to securely unify different access networks, addressing capacity, coverage, and data congestion challenges while reducing operational costs. It provides cost-effective and improved coverage in crowded areas, paving the way for a connected future with seamless connectivity and enriched mobile experiences. Overall, this option focuses on enhancing the performance and security of accessing the 5G core network from untrusted Wi-Fi connections, meeting the needs of mobile network users and the growing number of devices in an interconnected world.

About the Authors

Ravi Kumar Emani
General Manager and Sub Practice Head – Connectivity, Wipro Engineering Edge

Guruprasad Irappa Naik
Lead Architect, Wipro Engineering Edge