The European Commission study has found that people are flocking to use Wi-Fi internet and the trend is set to continue. 71% of all EU wireless data traffic in 2012 was delivered to smartphones and tablets using Wi-Fi, possibly rising to 78% by 2016.
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.
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.
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
- to make spectrum from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz available globally for Wi Fi;
- 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
- to reduce the administrative burden on the deployment of off-load services and networks in public locations.