Coronavirus Lockdown Stresses WiFi Networks, so FCC Offers Additional Spectrum

By Bill Toulas / April 13, 2020

Everyone is locked inside, working remotely, consuming content, attending classes, and accessing the internet on various devices like tablets, smartphones, laptops, PCs, or smart TVs, so the use of WiFi is exploding. While the spectrum dedicated to WiFi networks required expansion for quite some time now, the current situation is introducing an emergency towards this action. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has acknowledged this and assured people that they are already working on a plan to address the problem soon. Chairman Ajit Pai said that 1,200 megahertz of the additional spectrum would become available for WiFi use, hopefully alleviating the data traffic congestion.

Axios reports there is currently an estimated 19% increase in peak downstream traffic, and a 33% rise in upstream traffic compared to March 1, 2020. Over 90% of the devices people use in their homes are connecting to the internet via WiFi, meaning there’s a stress for every wireless modem/router out there right now. Even with FCC’s proposal to expand the WiFi spectrum, people will have to buy new routers, new smartphones, and new laptops that will be able to tap on the new “data highways,” so the solution isn’t immediate, and couldn’t have been.

The Broadcom director of product marketing Chris Szymanski believes that FCC’s plan could still make a difference. Even if a couple of users in a neighborhood upgrade their networking equipment, everyone in the area will benefit by having less interfering data flying around on the same wavelengths. He estimates that the situation would get better for everyone, even if a small group of users invests in new WiFi protocols. Meanwhile, on the ISP (internet service provider) level, 33 providers have received temporary approval to use spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band, which was previously secured exclusively for vehicle communications.

As for what people at home can do, the best way to deal with traffic congestion locally is to finally use the 5GHz band of your WiFi router. These are the “faster” lanes of traffic that can offer up to 23 individual channels. On the other side, the 2.4GHz band of your router can only serve up to three devices simultaneously before things start getting overcrowded, network speeds are dropped, and connectivity reliability is degraded. Remember, 5GHz is better for shorter ranges, while 2.4 GHz can travel farther, so choosing what device to connect to which WiFi band is something that you should consider carefully.

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