Ofcom proposes opening up more spectrum in UK’s 5GHz Wi-Fi band

UK telecoms regulator invites consultation on adding an extra sub-band in 5GHz to help meet the demand for more and faster Wi-Fi data traffic

Ofcom proposes opening up more spectrum in UK’s 5GHz Wi-Fi band

Ofcom set out plans to open up an extra sub-band in the 5GHz unlicensed band yesterday (12 May2016) to provide more Wi-Fi spectrum for people across the UK. The extra sub-band would increase the number of 80 MHz channels available for Wi-Fi from four to six, to accommodate data-hungry applications. These extra channels could be opened up in a few years.

This includes time for study of the technical conditions that will allow the sub-band to be used in a way that appropriately protect other users; to consult on these conditions; to take any steps required to write standards and/or regulations; and to allow time for manufacturers to update their products.

The proposals follow Ofcom’s 2014 Mobile Data Strategy, which set out an objective of adding additional spectrum for Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band. This consultation focuses on the sub-band 5725-5850, which is already used for Wi-Fi in a number of other countries, including the US, but not currently in Europe.

The proposals would enable Wi-Fi channels to carry larger amounts of data at faster download speeds. This would improve the quality of service, especially for applications that need more internet capacity, like high-definition video.

The UK telecoms regulator said that as broadband delivered to the home gets faster, people increasingly expect their Wi-Fi to provide several services at once - such as video streaming, video calls, gaming and remote working. This demand puts pressure on the airwaves - or radio spectrum - which carry Wi-Fi signals.

Many Wi-Fi routers in the UK currently use the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band, which is becoming increasingly congested and can impair broadband performance. Many people now have newer broadband routers, which use not only the 2.4 GHz band, but also the 5 GHz band - which has much more spectrum and is less congested.

But to make connections faster, Ofcom is proposing to open up an additional ‘sub-band’ within the 5 GHz frequency range for Wi-Fi - while ensuring protection for other users, such as satellite services.

Ofcom said it is keen to work with industry to understand how even more airwaves in the 5 GHz range might help meet growing demand - in particular, how and when additional spectrum should be made available, with safeguards to protect existing users.

Philip Marnick, group director of Spectrum at Ofcom, said: “People are placing greater demands on their broadband, so we need to ensure they aren’t let down by their wireless connection.

We also want to close the gap between advertised speeds and the wireless performance that people and businesses actually receive. So we’re exploring ways to open up more airwaves for Wi-Fi. In the meantime, people can check their router is up to date, and use our W-Fi Checker app to test if it’s working properly.”

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