WiFi Calling and VoLTE Network Readiness: Tidal wave or splash in a puddle?

I was out on an install recently and speaking with a group that runs the connectivity and IT service for a group of libraries in a City. We were discussing firewalls, application awareness, and eventually good ol’ Wi-Fi. When someone brought up the iPhone 6, we began discussing VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling. The conversation that ensued had us all looking around the room at each other and realizing we weren’t the only ones that had stumbled across this uh-oh moment.
But is it really that big of a deal?
I want to think this out via blog post..

Number of Devices on the Network
So, let’s say everyone puts HD voice, or Wi-Fi Calling, or VoLTE on their phone. Now wherever they have a Wi-Fi connection, their calls are routed via the Wi-Fi chipset and across your APs and your network. I think this part of the conversation has more impact on your network than the next part. Right now, Wi-Fi adoption rates at home, work, and play are in a pretty high spot, but I think it can and will go higher. If carriers introduce a Wi-Fi calling plan that doesn’t eat away at your minutes or they continue to drop the bar on data caps, or if mobile net neutrality doesn’t come through, people will be loving that Wi-Fi at work, school, library, retail store, etc.

So many things have contributed to the increased use in Wi-Fi over time that one more item, like this push to packetize voice into VoLTE or Wi-Fi calling, is just going to increase that, and that’s going to increase the load on your network. More devices require an infrastructure that can handle, more devices. As is right now, too many networks are stressing their WLAN equipment in an effort to offer wireless services to everyone, just think about how awesome it will be once (to use a 2014 millennial generation word of the year) literally everyone gets on that network? Awesome, right?

That library customer that I was visiting now becomes the carrier .. not really, but, what’s the difference? If I am a Verizon customer having problems completing a call at your library because your Wi-Fi network can’t handle the number of devices or the traffic on the network, who gets the support call? You guessed it, whoever’s closest. That means the person working the help desk gets the question “is your wifi working, I can’t make a call” which prompts he / she to call you, which leads to.. well, you get the picture. This might not happen all of the time, but with more of a dependence on Wi-Fi networks from mobile devices, tablets, phablets, etc. it can and will become an issue.

So what do you do?
First of all, make sure your wired network infrastructure is capable of handling these high-speed connections to your wireless network. Think about your cabling; is it capable of running GigE across it? How about PoE and PoE+? It might be time for an infrastructure upgrade in the wiring department. On that note: Go big or go home. If you’re looking for a great and informative free lunch, this is totally a great time to call your disti and ask to have the cable rep take you to Sizzler and drop some science on you. Trust me, you’ll get a kick out of it. Just say: “What’s the difference between your cable and the stuff from Home Depot? Cables is cables, right?” Watch them stop chewing immediately.

Now, what about those pesky switches? These aren’t gonna be 100Mbps ports we’re talking about after all. What good is all that fancy MU-MIMO and open airspace in the 5GHz spectrum if you’re dumping it into a 100Mbps port? I’m not saying to get knee-deep in this, but if you do, why not check out some of these. I just signed up as an Arista dealer, and man, these things blow me away!

Now that you have a kick-butt foundation, figure out if your wireless infrastructure is capable of supporting the number of devices that will be sitting on it in the very near future. It might be, it might not be. My rough estimate is figuring on 30 devices per AP, for now (granted, that is a very rough estimate). If you think about your users, some may have 2 devices, that may give you around 20 users per APs. If you think there will be more than 30 devices, figure out the best way to scale up or engineer a solution for it. I’m not talking about simply adding more access points and increasing your noise-floor, I’m saying figure out the best design for your network that can offload some of those users onto more strategic access points, take advantage of technologies like beamforming, band-steering, load balancing, etc. This will more than likely require some professional engineering, so don’t skimp.

Now, if you haven’t upgraded to N or AC, start to think about that, like yesterday. Freeing up your spectrum on 2.4GHz and adding capacity on 5 GHz is a must. With the iPhone 6 and all future devices supporting 802.11ac, give those users a place to take advantage of that technology. Start phasing it in if you have to, but get the ball rolling.

Anyhow, some of this might hit home with you, some of it might not. Either way, whether you want to pay attention to this blog post or not, know that it is coming. You might not have to order a ton of Arista 7150’s but at the end of the day your infrastructure will be used to place and receive calls from Joe-public. When that happens it’s probably better to be on the side of supporting it without a headache than scrambling to figure out what to do. Keep in mind, whichever situation you’re in, feel free to call and I’ll sell ya stuff and maybe even take you to Sizzler. 🙂

Have a great week!

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