Wi-Fi hotspots now at 44m and counting

The number of Wi-Fi hotspots continues to grow, worldwide. A recent report published by the largest commercial international Wi-Fi service provider, iPass, provides a current status for the availability of Wi-Fi hotspots in different countries and estimates future growth. Its live map shows how the over 44 million hotspots are distributed across the globe.  Three quarters of these are hosted by domestic access points. Half of the total number are available to iPass subscribers (mostly business people) to enable them to enjoy roaming connections.

The USA, France and the UK (which has with a hot-spot for every 11 people) occupy the three top places in terms of hot-spot density. By 2018, iPass estimates that there will be 340m hot-spots - one for every 20 people on the planet.

With the rapid expansion of demand for capacity, there has been great commercial interest in building networks of Wi-Fi hotspots – facilitated by at least the operating costs being picked up by end users. Internet service providers typically supply Wi-Fi access points as part of the broadband access service and now increasingly see these as an attractive means of supporting a comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage. This coverage can translate into revenues from mobile operators seeking to offload traffic from cellular hotspots as well as end users who explicitly need Wi-Fi access as they move around.

BT operates a service called Openzone – based on around 5m access points deployed in customer premises across the UK. In return for allowing their own access network to be partitioned (into private and public networks), these customers can enjoy BT Wi-Fi access when they are travelling around.

Larkhill recently presented at the World WiFi Summit, in Barcelona on 29th October 2014. Our talk introduced the topic of dynamic sharing of the white spaces spectrum (DSA) and its implications for the future of Wi-Fi - particularly noting the recent publication of the IEEE 802.11 af standard, which adds TV white spaces to the growing family of Wi-Fi bands (currently 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz).

Sources of the iPass news: Marvedis-Rethink, Electronics Weekly

Ofcom reveals breadth and depth of UK TV white spaces pilots

The UK is working hard to share spectrum more effectively - by applying new dynamic sharing technology to tap unused TV white spaces, in the first instance. The TV white spaces are gaps left in the UHF TV broadcast bands (the frequency range is 470 to 790 MHz), to prevent high power TV broadcasts from interfering with each other. These gaps have already been used intensively within theatres, studios and other venues, for wireless microphones and other programme-making devices (referred to as PMSE applications) - however much capacity remains untapped across the UK.

Last month BBC Newsnight featured news of how white space technology could help rural broadband on the Isle of Wight and life in future cities - beginning in Glasgow.

Now, Ofcom has just released details of the white spaces applications across the UK, being carried out under the umbrella of its UK TV White Spaces Pilot. The applications range from allowing Orkney ferry users to stay connected to the Internet, to enabling London Zoo's meerkats to start their own live Youtube channel. Broadband connections as well as 'Internet of Things' applications feature in the deployments.

Larkhill is pleased to be closely connected with the Glasgow white spaces pilot - working (on behalf of Microsoft) with 6Harmonics, the Centre for White Space Communications (University of Strathclyde), Mediatek, Sky, Spectrum Bridge, and the Scottish Government. The Glasgow Pilot builds on experience from an earlier trial of TV white spaces in improving broadband on the Isle of Bute. 

The broad geographic spread of diverse applications illustrates the growing UK interest this technology - following action by US regulators to allow licence exempt use of the technology, back in 2010. Regulators in Africa and Asia are now following UK and US regulatory developments in this field.

The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (whose members include Facebook, Google and Microsoft) has been assisting with the development of pilot white space deployments across Africa and Asia (where Singapore is particularly well advanced in its preparations to allow commercial applications of the white spaces technology). In Europe, the CEPT and ETSI have both laid important foundations for enabling this technology to be used in a harmonised way across the single market.

Wi-Fi is being adapted to take advantage of the improved coverage that white spaces enables - indoors and outside. The new IEEE 802.11af standard builds on the Gigabit performance offered by 802.11ac, by adding capacity in the TV white spaces bands. This is achieved through the new dynamic spectrum access technology, in which devices consult geolocation databases to determine which UHF channels they can use and with what power limit. So we can look forward to Wi-Fi access points which offer three bands: TV whitespaces as well as 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

Ofcom expects to complete its process for allowing licence exempt use of this spectrum (and hence commercialisation), early in the new year.

Larkhill has been following the process since around 2006 from early days in the US through to today - so we are well placed to help organisations that wish to understand the potential impact of this exciting new technology.