We’ve all read the recently published Cisco Virtual Networking Index Report, which shows that data traffic is growing at unprecedented rates across all kinds of communications, especially video. These rising traffic numbers will place untold strain on existing wireless technologies. Up to now, many in the industry have focused on cellular capacity. But there might also be a significant impact on Wi-Fi. Why, exactly? That’s because Wi-Fi is so popular and so critical to our daily lives. According to a Wi-Fi Alliance-published study, “Wi-Fi Spectrum Needs,” we will need more spectrum to support the expected, increased demand in Wi-Fi services. How much more spectrum will be needed in the year 2025? Up to 1000 MHz more than currently available. Let’s dig in to the study.
First, the methodology. Creating projections like these, which require a lot of multivariate analysis, is by nature, pretty hard. So what did the study contributors do? They used a multi-perspectival approach to arrive at evidence-based traffic predictions, for instance, including busy and upper bound (or really busy) traffic scenarios. They also considered different location types, such as office, residential and mall, device capabilities, and likely technology advances, all factors which would impact data demands over time.
So what are our future Wi-Fi spectrum requirements? Here’s the main take away from the report:
“We have shown that between 500 MHz and 1 GHz of new spectrum will be needed in 2025 to satisfy the anticipated busy hour, with between 1.3 and 1.7 GHz required if demand exceeds the busy hour prediction by a relatively modest 78%, for example due to novel and as yet un-anticipated applications, or the further concentration of traffic into fewer busy hours than the present four hours per day.”
Those new spectrum requirements, of course, vary by geographical region.
By the way, one of the report contributors, William Webb, was recently interviewed by Wi-Fi Evangelist and Wi-Fi Now CEO, Claus Hetting. During the interview, Webb pushed back against a recent article touting the so-called end of Wi-Fi, due to the re-emergence of unlimited data plans. Webb noted that the Cisco VNI, in fact, predicted an increase in Wi-Fi offload for the foreseeable future and not a decrease. Moreover, he noted that network operators, big and small, were struggling to meet customer data demands, meaning Wi-Fi would remain a connectivity technology into the foreseeable future.
 Steve Methley and William Webb. Wi-Fi Spectrum Needs Study: Final Report. Available at https://www.wi-fi.org/download.php?file=/sites/default/files/private/Wi-Fi%20Spectrum%20Needs%20Study_0.pdf.