In 2020 and 2021, Wi-Fi became critical to our daily lives. The surge of Wi-Fi device use raised it to an essential utility––like electricity, gas, or running water. Wi-Fi networks are consequently experiencing tremendous pressure which amplifies the need for license-exempt spectrum in many countries, begging the question, are we ready for the future?

ASSIA is in a unique position to study millions of consumer internet connections across the US, Canada, and Europe. Our data analytics and optimization platform leverages artificial intelligence and collects data via global access links from mobile, home, and fixed-line connections. Roughly 40 tier-1 global ISPs, leverage ASSIA’s services, which helps support minute-to-minute connection management of about one hundred million global connections.

ASSIA’s artificially intelligent analytics uncover issues and problems and help to resolve those adaptively through reinforcement learning, and also through intelligence-assisted manual intervention. This insight helps ASSIA’s customers determine whether consumers’ internet issues relate to W-Fi or to fixed-line limitations. ASSIA gathers this data in a way that it is not possible to recover specific information about any individual consumer or any individual ISP, either in North America or Europe. ASSIA experts and expert systems aggregate the data to provide a holistic continental view, which soon also will distinguish rural from urban use patterns.

Because ASSIA offers this unique intelligence, the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) requested our expertise to study and report on the current state of Wi-Fi. In June of 2021, I presented our findings on the Wi-Fi spectrum, its use, and limitations at the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance 2021 Global Summit.

Download the presentation here.

More detailed findings and factors analyzed will be available in the October edition of ISE Magazine.

Wi-Fi Spectrum Usage is Reaching a Critical Inflection Point

ASSIA research shows that Wi-Fi spectrum usage rapidly approaches a tipping point where demand for in-home bandwidth exceeds demand for to-home bandwidth. This fact challenges the ISPs’ infrastructure investment justification on fiber-to-the-home because the culprit behind subscriber-performance problems often arises from Wi-Fi spectrum-allocation limitations.

Wi-Fi traffic steadily increased in the Spring of 2021 and is pushing the demand beyond the limits of today’s Wi-Fi networks. Hence, the ASSIA/DSA report concludes that the FCC 6GHz Wi-Fi-spectrum allocation is already necessary for North America to keep pace with the expected quality of experience for video entertainment, remote work, telehealth, distance learning, and more.

In terms of traffic, congestion levels, and other factors, Europe’s needs trail behind North America by six to 12 months. The pandemic was in full progress at the end of May 2020, so the bias of the initial large increase in early-pandemic internet use does not likely influence rate-of-increase results. The charts below provide detail on these continents’ state of Wi-Fi:

 

North America

2.4 GHz
Wi-Fi traffic, downstream
4.4%
Wi-Fi traffic, upstream
5.5%
Wi-Fi traffic, interference
7.1%
Wi-Fi traffic congestion in busy hour
-3.6%
Wi-Fi latency
13.4%
Wi-Fi throughput /transmit rate
-7.3%
5GHz
Wi-Fi traffic, downstream
30.2%
Wi-Fi traffic, upstream
22.5%
Wi-Fi traffic, interference
18.3%
Wi-Fi traffic congestion in busy hour
760.9%
Wi-Fi latency
21.7%
Wi-Fi throughput /transmit rate
-18.8%

Europe

2.4 GHz
Wi-Fi traffic, downstream
42.0%
Wi-Fi traffic, upstream
14.4%
Wi-Fi traffic, interference
3.7%
Wi-Fi traffic congestion in busy hour
64.0%
Wi-Fi latency
29.9%
Wi-Fi throughput /transmit rate
-8.7%
5Gz
Wi-Fi traffic, downstream
42.0%
Wi-Fi traffic, upstream
21.8%
Wi-Fi traffic, interference
5.4%
Wi-Fi traffic congestion in busy hour
28.6%
Wi-Fi latency
5.7%
Wi-Fi throughput /transmit rate
-8.4%

In North America, there is a clear shift from 2.4 to 5Ghz. While the 2.4GHz band use still increases, the 5Ghz band shows more rapid use in uplink and downlink; congestion and latency also increase. European data tells a slightly different story. There is definite growth in the 5GHz band, but expansion also continues in the lower band.

Wi-Fi Traffic Doubles Every Three Years

As mentioned, the 5GHz band grows more rapidly in North America than the 2.4GHz band, while the increased usage is closer for these two bands in Europe. With that said, both continents show rising Wi-Fi usage. The key observation is, at this growth rate, Wi-Fi traffic doubles every three years, which is demonstrated by the below graphs that show average daily traffic over the recorded period and linear-regression fit.

North America

Europe

Additional conclusions are drawn from the data, and a detailed analysis is available by watching below or downloading the DSA Global Summit presentation.

A Single Metric for Regulators: Spectrum Need Score (SNS)

To simplify ASSIA’s conclusions, the DSA asked ASSIA to formulate a single metric to help regulators and other stakeholders determine whether more spectrum is necessary. Whereby, ASSIA developed the Spectrum Need Score (SNS), which combines measures of traffic volume, latency, interference, and congestion. SNS is a single metric with values between zero and one; zero indicates the best-case scenario (no spectrum needed) and one indicates that spectrum is an immediate need. The below graphs show the SNS for North America and Europe:

North America

Europe

It is important to note that Wi-Fi productivity will be negatively impacted in the spring of 2022. For example, the SNS rises 25 to 40% annually. With that said, North America’s 6GHz unlicensed-spectrum allocation will help alleviate this problem.

Conclusion

As trends in telehealth, distance education, work-from-home, and home entertainment continue to surge and fuel our global connectivity demands, regulators across the world must make informed decisions on spectrum regulations, ensuring that their economies and society thrive in the modern world. Wi-Fi access and throughput have quickly become a social good as these bandwidth-intensive applications impact our home and work lives, and more broadly––society at large. Indeed, significant percentages of the world’s economies rely on high-performance networks.

Our analysis concludes that to avoid degradation of QoS that will affect final users, the entire 6GHz spectrum (5925 MHz – 7125 MHz) for Wi-Fi is urgently needed in terms of traffic, congestion levels, and other factors.