A new European Commission study has found that 71% of all EU wireless data traffic in 2012 was delivered to smartphones and tablets using Wi-Fi, possibly rising to 78% by 2016.
The surprising results show how the cheaper cost to consumers of using Wi-Fi hotspots is changing behaviour, and the study recommends extra spectrum be made available across the EU to support this rising demand.
European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: “Wi-Fi is a huge success. It’s a win for everybody involved. I will make sure the European Commission helps to spread use of Wi-Fi through extra spectrum and lighter regulation.”
While 3G/4G networks are essential for truly mobile activity, it is currently expensive to buy the spectrum rights needed to run these networks, consumers pay significant prices to use 3G/4G (for example when roaming), and the networks are already congested in many parts of Europe because of a lack of allocated spectrum.
“Systems where you share your Wi-Fi network with others are a great example of how we can crowd-source a better internet for everyone. Everyone in Europe should be able to benefit from internet when they are away from home and work,” Kroes said.
The report notes that a combined use of Wi-Fi and other small cell infrastructures (which complement traditional macro cell mobile base stations) can relieve congestion on the 3G/4G networks by providing "backhaul" functionality outside those networks, while minimising costs to both network operators and users.
Wider use of these technologies could allow operators to save tens of billions of euros as they go about upgrading networks to meet customer demand. Consumers would save money by using Wi-Fi instead of paying for mobile data when they are actually near a Wi-Fi hotspot. Small cells can also extend network coverage into hard to reach places, including inside large buildings.
The study recommends:
•to make spectrum from 5150MHz to 5925MHz available globally for Wi-Fi
•to continue making the 2.6GHz and the 3.5GHz bands fully available for mobile use and to consult on future licensing options for 3.5GHz and other potential new licensed mobile frequency bands
•to reduce the administrative burden on the deployment of off-load services and networks in public locations.
Additional findings of the study include:
•Wi-Fi and LTE small cells are complementary to one another rather than substitutes. Combining both technologies can help maximising the use of available spectrum whilst minimising costs by using common backhaul and other site infrastructure.
•Off-load solutions potentially permit much greater spectrum re-use over a given geographic area.
•New Wi-Fi equipment will enable higher bit rates by deploying wider channels (80 MHz or 160 MHz).
•Automatic authentication processes (HotSpot 2.0) for accessing Wi-Fi networks will largely overcome the historic complexity to connect manually to Wi-Fi, namely of the connection and authentication process.
•Solutions that allow individuals to share their bandwidth via Wi-Fi and a number of Wi-Fi roaming aggregators are making public Wi-Fi access more convenient and affordable for many users.
Rob Mustarde, VP of marketing and product management at Wi-Fi equipment provider Ruckus Wireless, commented: “There are a rapidly increasing number of Wi-Fi hotspots proliferating public areas in the UK, so interoperability will soon allow end-users to roam seamlessly between these distinct networks. Hotspot 2.0 technology allows a mobile device to quickly and automatically identify wireless access points (AP’s), for which it has a roaming arrangement, and then authenticate.
“With Hotspot 2.0, it will now be possible to link together this huge footprint of Wi-Fi Access Points through a web of roaming arrangements. Users will be able to seamlessly roam onto Wi-Fi networks from almost any location. Hotspot 2.0 will greatly enhance the opportunities for Wi-Fi operators to monetise their networks through roaming arrangements with other providers.
“The net result of Hotspot 2.0 for the mobile operator is much greater network densification that can be achieved by building out a network of APs on their own and offer a much better experience for the subscriber. Users no longer need to know or care about SSIDs and authentication protocols. Instead, they get the same seamless roaming experience that we all enjoy with cellular.”