Call for ideas to free up airwave space for WiFi

Innovative ideas to free up the airwaves used for WiFi and mobile internet usage need to be found now if the UK is to avoid a potential “capacity crunch” by the end of this decade, Ofcom has said.

One proposal the regulator is already discussing with the hope of heading off the prospect of congestion is to increase the amount of spectrum at higher bandwidths such as 5GHz for WiFi devices.

In a consultation on the options available, the telecoms watchdog says it wants to use these radio frequencies without having to auction them to a company, which would sell them on to the public and charge for usage.

But it acknowledges that, before it extends the band available for WiFi and mobile internet, it would need to consider the needs of – and potential interference to - other spectrum users, such as satellite, radar, medical and military.

Not taking any action, however, could also be damaging. Ofcom explained: “Smartphones and tablet computers have added to an ever increasing number of devices that depend on spectrum – the vital but finite resource that underpins wireless communications services.

“This demand will only increase in the future, which is why we need to think about how to avoid a potential capacity crunch.”

According to the regulator’s research, the current spectrum allocation for WiFi at 2.4 and 5 GHz is likely to be “under pressure” by 2020, indicating that additional spectrum may be required, particularly for high-speed indoor wireless networks.

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