The rapid rise in smartphone and tablet use means that traffic on the macro cellular network is growing fast, with consequent significant off-loading on to WiFi.
In 2012 71% of all wireless data traffic that was delivered to smartphones and tablets in the European Union was delivered via WiFi and it is estimated that this percentage will rise to 78% by 2016. These are among the findings of the ‘Study on the impact of traffic off-loading and related technological trends on the demand for wireless broadband spectrum’ carried out by the European Commission, which looks at the increasing use of WiFi in Europe. The results show that the cheaper cost to consumers of using WiFi hotspots is changing behaviour, and recommends that extra spectrum be made available to meet the increasing demand. In addition, the study points up the opportunities presented by traffic offloading technology, i.e. routing wireless data that could be served by long-range cellular networks over ‘small-area access points’ such as LTE or WiFi.
Keeping bandwidth available for mobile use.
In order to support this momentum, the study recommends making spectrum from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz available globally for WiFi, and to continue making the 2.6 GHz and the 3.5 GHz bands fully available for mobile use. The European Commission also points to the need to reduce the administrative burden on the deployment of public free-of-charge off-load services and networks. WiFi and LTE ‘small cells’ are complementary and are not substitutes for each other. The combination of these two technologies could help to optimise the use of available spectrum while minimising costs, stresses the report. Meanwhile WiFi equipment based on the newest standard enables higher bitrates by deploying wider RF channels of 80 MHz or 160 MHz. An automated authentication process for accessing WiFi networks would also be a means of overcoming the current complexity of connecting manually.
Traffic off-loading an economical solution
Reductions in network costs as a result of traffic offloading would probably result in a better price/performance ratio for the mobile bandwidth, which would benefit consumers. As far as network costs are concerned, savings across the European Union in 2012 amounted to €35 billion, and the European Commission is forecasting annual savings rising to €200 billion by 2016. The combined use of a WiFi connection and small cell infrastructure deployed alongside conventional macro cells could help smooth outcongestion on the 3G/4G networks by providing functionality outside these networks, while minimising costs both for network operators and users, says the Commission. Greater use of such technological solutions could result in operators saving tens of billions of euro while they concentrate on modernising the networks in order to meet customer demand.