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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 1 August 2013

Europe loves Wi-Fi: new study recommends more spectrum should be made available

A new European Commission study has found that people are flocking to use Wi-Fi internet and the trend is set to continue. 71% of all wireless data traffic delivered in 2012 to smartphones and tablets in the EU was delivered 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,” Neelie Kroes said.

The 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

  1. to make spectrum from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz available globally for Wi Fi;

  2. to continue making the 2.6 GHz and the 3.5 GHz bands fully available for mobile use and to consult on future licensing options for 3.5 GHz and other potential new licensed mobile frequency bands; and

  3. to reduce the administrative burden on the deployment of off-load services and networks in public locations.

Background

Wi-Fi is most commonly used in the home and work environments, and is especially useful for connecting multiple devices to one internet subscription. Rapid growth of Wi-Fi is occurring in public places such as cafes and public transport interchanges, and by mobile operators looking to off-load traffic from congested 3G networks. This helps operators cope with the 66% annual increase in demand for mobile data traffic predicted for 2012-2017.

Small cells are low-powered radio access nodes that support the marco-cells that we typically think of today as mobile base stations or antenna. Small cells will increasingly going be a critical part of all mobile networks. 4G / LTE networks will tend to work as a network of layers of small cells (usable from a range of 10 metres to 2 kilometres) and large cells (range can be tens of kilometres), which makes small cells much more integrated into the network’s operation compared to 3G networks where small cells play the role of occasional “off-loading” capacity.

For the study, data traffic off-loading was defined as routing wireless data that could be served by long-range cellular networks over so called "small-area access points" (LTE or Wi-Fi). Smart phones and tablets can connect to such alternative access network technologies, which use local coverage and can operate in frequencies accessible to different network operators.

Additional findings of the study include:

  1. 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.

  2. Off-load solutions potentially permit much greater spectrum re-use over a given geographic area.

  3. New Wi-Fi equipment will enable higher bit rates by deploying wider channels (80 MHz or 160 MHz).

  4. Automatic authentication processes for accessing Wi-Fi networks will largely overcome the historic complexity to connect manually to Wi-Fi, namely of the connection and authentication process.

  5. 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.

Useful links

PDF of study in EU Bookshop

Invitation to public workshop discussing full study findings on 3 September 2013 Wireless Europe on Digital Agenda Website

Follow Neelie on Twitter

Contacts

Email: comm-kroes@ec.europa.eu Tel: +32.229.57361 Twitter: @RyanHeathEU


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