When Cellular Meets WiFi in Wireless Small Cell Networks

Publication Type:

Journal Article


IEEE Communications Magazine , Volume 51, Issue 6 (2013)


The deployment of small cell base stations (SCBSs) overlaid on existing macro-cellular systems is seen as a key solution for offloading traffic, optimizing coverage, and boosting the capacity of future cellular wireless systems. The next-generation of SCBSs is envisioned to be multi-mode, i.e., capable of transmitting simultaneously on both licensed and unlicensed bands. This constitutes a cost-effective integration of both WiFi and cellular radio access technologies (RATs) that can efficiently cope with peak wireless data traffic and heterogeneous quality-of-service requirements. To leverage the advantage of such multi-mode SCBSs, we discuss the novel proposed paradigm of cross-system learning by means of which SCBSs self-organize and autonomously steer their traffic flows across different RATs. Cross-system learning allows the SCBSs to leverage the advantage of both the WiFi and cellular worlds. For example, the SCBSs can offload delay-tolerant data traffic to WiFi, while simultaneously learning the probability distribution function of their transmission strategy over the licensed cellular band. This article will first introduce the basic building blocks of cross-system learning and then provide preliminary performance evaluation in a Long-Term Evolution (LTE) simulator overlaid with WiFi hotspots. Remarkably, it is shown that the proposed cross-system learning approach significantly outperforms a number of benchmark traffic steering policies.