Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator plans to extend the amount of bandwidth available for Wi-Fi communications in the 5 GHz band in an attempt to reduce 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi congestion. The aim is improve Wi-Fi capacity so that more data can be transmitted at faster speeds.
The main channel used for Wi-Fi data transmission – 2.4 GHz – has become increasingly congested, which is slowing down data speeds and limiting the performance of Wi-Fi communications. A second channel – 5 GHz – has been used in parallel since the adoption of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard.
In its consultation document, entitled ‘Improving spectrum access for consumers in the 5 GHz band’, Ofcom explains the need for more bandwidth in the 5GHz spectrum: “Wi-Fi is one of the UK’s most important vehicles for communications, remote working, commerce and entertainment, with 85 per cent of the UK’s 27 million households having a broadband connection. “Virtually all of these households use Wi-Fi to provide the final link between their home broadband router and the various wireless devices in their homes. Wi-Fi also provides outdoor and indoor coverage to ‘hotspots’ such as transport hubs, sports stadia, shopping centres, hotels and so on; and within commercial premises through enterprise networks,” notes the report.Users are placing greater demands on their Wi-Fi broadband, it says, which in turn is creating a gap between advertised and actual speeds. At the same time, interference is is increasingly becoming problem, particularly in built-up areas, as Wi-Fi routers compete for bandwidth in the same 2.4 GHz frequency.
Wi-Fi is becoming the main method of connectivity for home and remote workers, as in-building cellular reception is often either patchy or uses up data allowances. The Digital Communications Review identified that 89 per cent of smartphone users access the internet via Wi-Fi in their homes, while a study by Cisco Systems indicated that 54 per cent of all mobile data traffic in the UK was accessed by Wi-Fi in 2015, and predicted this will increase to 65 per cent by 2020.
Meanwhile, Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for 2015 notes that Wi-Fi routers are being used by 95 per cent of households with a broadband connection and that 66 per cent of households now have at least one internet-connected smartphone (up from 39 per cent in 2012). The same report notes that 65 per cent of households have at least one laptop, and 54 per cent at least one tablet computer. Smartphone owners now spend almost twice as long online via their phones than they do via laptops and personal computers.