It's nearly impossible to do business anymore without access to huge amounts of data, whenever and wherever you want it. Yet cellular data roaming charges are pricey, WiFi spectrum is limited, and WiFi access varies from region to region.
Now the European Commission is asking member states to release more spectrum for WiFi to reduce costs of high-speed Internet for mobile users and make WiFi more accessible and more affordable to Europeans -- maybe even when they're not in Europe.
European Union Vice President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes wants to create a single European regulator for licensing spectrum. From July 2014 Europeans will be able to choose their mobile data plans from different providers when traveling to another European member state, effectively eliminating data roaming charges. But the Commission wants to enable mobile users to get WiFi almost everywhere. In a recent European Commission study Kroes said:
Systems where you share your WiFi network with others are a great example of how we can crowd-source a better Internet for everyone. Everyone in Europe should be able to benefit from Internet when they are away from home and work.
WiFi and LTE small cells can complement one another instead of competing with one another. In fact many mobile operators are already considering an LTE/WiFi model to deal with the forecasted data traffic increase, anticipated to grow by a factor of 10 by 2015.
But others are resisting. Offloading mobile traffic to other technologies, especially WiFi, means operators lose contact with their subscribers as they move off the mobile network, and are thereby unable to collect important data traffic revenue and browsing and app usage data.
This is one reason introducing LTE is so important to the operators. But most mobile devices today do not support LTE, and American users' WiFi access isn't as thorough as Europeans'. Also, according to Vodafone and Ofcom, the independent UK regulator, LTE will only supply 10 percent of the capacity that will be needed by 2030. In the meantime, operators are rolling out new LTE data plans, but at a much higher price.
The European Commission study suggests some strategies to cope with the data demand and use alternative solutions:
- Make spectrum from 5,150 MHz to 5,925 MHz available globally for WiFi
- Make 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz fully available for mobile use
- Consult on future licensing options for 3.5 GHz and other potential new licensed mobile frequency bands
- Reduce administrative burden on the deployment of public offload services and networks
Would all this be enough? According to the study, 71 percent of all wireless traffic was delivered to smartphones and tablets via WiFi last year. If the EU can successfully keep up with the exponentially increasing demand for data, how will the rest of the world keep up?