Plans to speed up the UK's Wi-Fi connections

13 May 2016

Wifi gifOfcom has today set out plans designed to help speed up Wi-Fi connections for millions of people across the UK.

The proposals would open up more airwaves for Wi-Fi channels so that larger amounts of data can be carried at faster download speeds. This would improve the quality of service, especially for applications that need more internet capacity, like high-definition video.

As broadband delivered to the home gets faster, people increasingly expect their Wi-Fi to provide several services at once - such as video streaming, video calls, gaming and remote working. This demand puts pressure on the airwaves - or radio spectrum - which carry Wi-Fi signals.

Many Wi-Fi routers in the UK currently use a part of the spectrum called the 2.4 GHz band, which is becoming increasingly congested and can impair broadband performance. Many people now have newer broadband routers, which use not only the 2.4 GHz band, but also the 5 GHz band - which has much more spectrum and is less congested.

To make connections faster, Ofcom is proposing to open up an additional 'sub-band' within the 5 GHz frequency range for Wi-Fi - while ensuring protection for other users, such as satellite services.

The extra sub-band would increase the number of 80 MHz channels available for Wi-Fi from four to six, to accommodate data-hungry applications. These extra channels - which are already being used in the US - could be opened up in a few years.1

Higher capacity Wi-Fi connections

Ofcom is keen to work with industry to understand how even more airwaves in the 5 GHz range might help meet growing demand - in particular, how and when additional spectrum should be made available, with safeguards to protect existing users.

Philip Marnick, Group Director of Spectrum at Ofcom, said: "People are placing greater demands on their broadband, so we need to ensure they aren't let down by their wireless connection.

"We also want to close the gap between advertised speeds and the wireless performance that people and businesses actually receive. So we're exploring ways to open up more airwaves for Wi-Fi.

"In the meantime, people can check their router is up to date, and use our W-Fi Checker app to test if it's working properly."

What people can do today

Broadband users can check whether their in-home Wi-Fi is giving them the best service today by using a simple, powerful Ofcom app.

Wireless broadband may not be working as well as it could in nearly six million UK homes and offices, according to Ofcom research. This is often caused by the Wi-Fi set-up in the house slowing down broadband.

The Ofcom Wi-Fi Checker, which runs on smartphones and tablets, allows consumers and businesses to discover the quality of their wireless internet signal wherever they live or work - as well as offering practical steps to help people get the best from their connection.

The app tests the Wi-Fi set-up and, if it finds a problem, will provide some troubleshooting tips to help improve broadband. It is free to download now from Apple's App Store and Google Play.

Many consumers can benefit from higher Wi-Fi speeds immediately by using a more modern router - older ones do not access the 5 GHz band at all. Ofcom's current plan aims to avoid future congestion in the 5 GHz band, as the move to newer broadband routers places more demands on this part of the airwaves.