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Ofcom Confirm Plan to Boost UK WiFi Network Speeds via the 5GHz Band

Thursday, March 9th, 2017 (11:25 am) - Score 1,686
Wireless network

The UK telecoms regulator has today decided to push forward with its plan to boost the speed of WiFi (WLAN) networks, like the one being distributed by your home broadband router, by making an additional 125MHz of radio spectrum available to it in the 5GHz band (5725 – 5850MHz).

At present most indoor home or office based Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN/RLAN) devices, such as broadband Routers, Computers or Smartphones, make use of both the 2.4GHz and or 5GHz (GigaHertz) bands. The lower frequency 2.4GHz spectrum is the one most commonly used because it penetrates further through walls (better coverage), while 5GHz can delivery faster speeds but suffers from weaker coverage.

Each of these bands is then split up into separate “Channels“. For example, there are 14 channels sharing around 100MHz of radio spectrum in the 2.4GHz range and each is about 20MHz wide (these are spaced just a few MHz apart to limit interference). The 5GHz band is similar, although the number of channels available and how much spectrum they use (10MHz to 160MHz) varies from country to country.

Last year Ofcom proposed to adopt the USA’s approach to WiFi by opening up a further 125MHz of 5.8GHz spectrum (here), which would increase the number of 80MHz channels available from 4 to 6 and deliver faster network speeds.

Ofcoms Statement

Harmful interference or congestion could negate the benefits of any reductions in the regulatory burden gained from exemption. We have addressed this risk by considering each other service in turn and by designing technical parameters that mitigate risks of harmful interference.

By making the regulations, additional capacity in Wi-Fi will be readily available to consumers and citizens across the UK. The benefits will include higher connection and fewer delays, because added bandwidth in Wi-Fi reduces the need for users to share channels. Channel sharing in Wi-Fi occurs by different users taking turns to use the available channels, which can introduce delays and slow down services.

Businesses across the UK use Wi-Fi and will also benefit from licence exemption in the 5.8 GHz band, being able to use the additional bandwidth without the administrative cost and effort required to apply for a licence. Additional bandwidth may also reduce costs for some businesses, as it makes it possible to improve their Wi-Fi coverage without requiring additional equipment (or a greater density of access points) to achieve this goal.

Because Wi-Fi is so widely used (currently 86% of UK households are connected to broadband; of these almost all use Wi-Fi), we believe that the aggregate benefit of the proposed regulations is likely to be considerable

The regulator notes that around half of respondents to last year’s consultation agreed with their proposal to prioritise making the 5.8GHz band available for Wi-Fi as soon as possible, while the other half disagreed. In particular the potentially negative impact of the WiFi changes on Satellite reception, Broadband Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) ISPs and various other services in the 5GHz band was raised a number of times.

However Ofcom noted that 5.8GHz “has the potential to become harmonised worldwide” for Wi-Fi and is already used for WiFi in many major administrations including the US, China, Canada, and Australia. The regulator has also proposed various rules and restrictions in order to help keep tabs on any issues with coexistence, although they have ultimately decided that the benefits are far greater than the risks.

Ofcom has today launched a final consultation with UK stakeholders on their proposed changes. The making of the new regulations will also be contingent on any comments the European Commission may have on the technical parameters they propose to apply to the use of the band. The closing date for responses is 11th April 2017.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar craski

    If anything the WISPs need more 5GHz Band C spectrum to play with in busy area’s without having to also fight against your average router having permission to blast the entire spectrum whether they need it or not.

    There is nothing stopping people using that spectrum now if they really need it, the licence fee is trivial at £50/year for first 50 devices. At least this way there is some control over it and only those that really need it will be using it.

  2. Having only just met with Ofcom on Tuesday as part of an INCA meeting, they don’t consider that interference between in-house and outdoor is an issue. If anyone can help collect evidence that would be good. Agree it is a harmful progression.

    • Avatar wireless pacman

      I suspect you could rephrase that as “don’t give a monkeys about FWA ISPs!”

      Having said that, we have not (yet) noticed any issues with internal wifi kit at 5GHz. Have noticed it during scans, but not caused any problems as far as I can tell. Prob cus it does not travel well through walls n ceilings.

  3. Avatar Nuccco

    Open it up. The benefit of 5ghz is lower propagation and higher frequency reuse. FWA ISPs should be using longer range bands, not competing with home networks.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      Sorry, don’t follow your logic.

    • Avatar Dave

      Band C (5725 – 5850MHz) is currently dedicated to FWA Wireless ISP use. There is a fee to use this and normal residential users shouldn’t be using it. Opening it up will destroy the viability of FWA WISP’s to operate and these WISP’s such as Quickline and Vfast are what many rely on where BT doesn’t deliver.

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