The European Commission took a step on Thursday to boost the market for Wi-Fi access by requiring all 25 European Union member countries to offer the 5GHz frequency band for wireless services.
The Commission, the E.U.'s executive body and main telecommunications regulator, announced that all member states would have to make two frequency bands (5159-5350 MHz and 5470-5725 MHz) available for Wi-Fi Internet services from Nov. 1 this year.
The new frequencies will enable Wi-Fi service providers to offer a greater range of services and avoid capacity shortages on the current 2.4GHz standard.
It will mean, for example, that companies will be able to offer standard transmission rates starting at 54M bps (bits per second), which is currently the theoretical maximum rate for 2.4GHz devices, many of which still offer only 11M bps.
The Commission is also requiring member states to ensure that other radio spectrum users are protected against interference from the Wi-Fi band.
The 5GHz band is already available in the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region, and the Commission hopes that the new spectrum will lead to a further rapid increase in the number of Wi-FI hotspots in the E.U.
At the moment, the Asia-Pacific region leads the world with the highest number of hotspots, 29,400, compared to 26,000 in Western Europe and 22,700 in the U.S., according to 2005 figures from Pyramid Research, quoted by the Commission.
There are currently 120 million Wi-Fi users worldwide, including 25 million in Western Europe, according to figures quoted by the Commission. But this number is expected to rise to around 500 million over the next three years.
The new service is also expected to give a boost to VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) providers.
However, take-up of the new service will depend on computer manufacturers and wireless access equipment makers to offer products that can take advantage of the new frequency.