Ofcom consults telcos on wifi availability on 5GHz spectrum band

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is undertaking a consultation with telcos and other stakeholders over the use of the 5GHz spectrum band for wifi services.

The regulator said it is looking to develop a better understanding of the role that shared spectrum access could play in the mobile broadband and M2M sectors alongside cleared spectrum bands.

Wifi operates in the internationally harmonised 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands on a licence exempt basis. However, research commissioned by Ofcom found that while the 5GHz band used by wifi is currently underutilised, an extension of this band could be required in the future to support the use of wireless broadband connection speeds. Ofcom expects mobile data demand to increase by 80 times its current levels by 2030.

However the regulator said that freeing up additional spectrum in the 5GHz band may ease pressure on operators’ existing spectrum as well as improve 4G network coverage through wifi offloading.

“We recognise that this approach also has wider applicability to other sectors and would welcome stakeholder views on other service types where spectrum sharing could potentially deliver significant benefits to citizens and consumers,” Ofcom said in a statement.

“Operators are exploring new methods of monetising mobile data, particularly in light of declining revenues from traditional voice and messaging services” said David Nowicki, CMO of wifi solutions provider Devicescape.

“But they can’t be reliant on higher value customers, such as early adopters and heavy data users; it just isn’t sustainable as the high-growth segments include mass market users. However, by extending their capacity-reach with an ‘always best connected’ strategy, using not only their own networks but also maximizing and simplifying usage of curated private and public wifi networks, operators will be able to stimulate overall usage and deliver a better user experience at a lower cost.“

Nowicki added that smartphone users tend to be divided into distinctive groups with heavy data users and early adopters leading the pack and light users, which make up a significant percentage of the subscriber base, lagging behind in terms of usage.

“Light users are typically held back by some combination of cost, performance and complexity. These users don’t care to distinguish between Home wifi, Public wifi, 3G, 4G – they just want to be connected wherever they are.

“Devicescape analytics indicate that up to 30 per cent of smartphone users are not connecting optimally to home wifi and that at least 90 per cent of users are not connecting optimally to public wifi. These lost opportunities exist because most users are not aware that there is a better wifi connection available and/or they switch off their optimal data connection and then forget to switch it back on later. The fact that most users do not fully leverage public  wifi is understandable since the quality is highly variable and it can take up to 10 steps to connect manually.”

The consultation will last until November.

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