Wi-Fi is big business these days: for many in the developed world, having access to Wi-Fi is seen to be as essential as food and water. There are a large number of businesses offering free or paid-for Wi-Fi services, meaning customers with all sorts of devices from wearables through to smartphones, tablets, cameras and laptops, are able to get online. The Wi-Fi industry has vigorously defended these airwaves – it mounted a stalwart defense of the 802.11 technologies when it felt threatened by LTE-U for example and there are a few reasons for this. The main one is that companies offering Wi-Fi networks do not wish to be jostled out of the airwaves by overly aggressive carrier signals; they would like to see customers connecting to their networks.
To this end, one of the world's largest Wi-Fi hotspot businesses, Comcast, has announced a joint venture with Ericsson to build and deploy Wi-Fi cargo vans. The news was announced at the INTX trade show for the cable industry. Ericsson explained that Comcast has helped the wireless network provider design the vans, which it has billed as "Wi-Fi On Wheels." However, make no mistake: these cargo vans are not simply a commercial vehicle with a couple of Wi-Fi access points installed. Instead, these are fully customized Ford Transit 350 cargo vans each equipped with six Wi-Fi access points. Ericsson's networking will support a quoted 2,500 people at a range of up to 500 feet. The vans support non-line-of-sight, or NLOS, microwave backhaul, onboard backup power and fast deployment, meaning Comcast can get the Wi-Fi service up and running "in minutes." Ericsson have invested considerable time and expertise in developing their NLOS backhaul systems, which relies on high-frequency signals to either penetrate buildings, be refracted by edges or reflected in order to still reach the target
Comcast will use these vans to broadcast Xfinity-branded Wi-Fi hotspots at sporting and community events, or at emergency sites. Comcast's Senior Vice President and General Manager for communications, data and mobility wrote this on the news: "Comcast manages the world's largest WiFi network and we continue to look for innovative ways to provide consumers with access to Xfinity WiFi in even more places." Although it is not clear how many Transit 350 Wi-Fi vans Comcast will be buying or where exactly they will be deployed, the new service could potentially put Comcast into competition with the carriers, who typically boost coverage at sports and recreational sites using mobile or portable cellular sites.