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Reaching the Urban Unconnected needs more than just ‘more Wi-Fi’

Posted by Todd Mersch on 7 July 2016

Last month saw the inaugural World Wi-Fi Day, run by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), as a tool to promote Wi-Fi for socioeconomic development, and also to focus stakeholder attention on the increasing number of ‘urban unconnected’.

Research commissioned by the WBA highlighted that over half of the people living in major global cities, such as New York and LA, have no broadband connection. The research also pointed to the fact that a clear digital divide remains between developed and undeveloped markets, which is only set to become more prevalent as public and private sectors across the world move more services online, threatening to isolate and exclude large parts of society with no access to the internet.

World Wi-Fi Day aims to bridge this digital divide by working with operators to provide free broadband and more access points. And while more Wi-Fi is necessary, the complete solution doesn’t just lie in providing ‘more Wi-Fi’ – we also need to focus attention on how Wi-Fi is distributed and managed.

Operators, businesses and governments need to assess what’s already in place before adding more access points – just as they would when planning a mobile network. If more people are to become part of our digital world, reliability and ease of connectivity will be paramount. Simply adding unmanaged Wi-Fi access points without planning means connection issues, inevitable congestion and interference, and ultimately, a risk of wasting all of this effort.

It’s very much like adding extra trains to a service. The added trains will only cause more delays as the track becomes more congested. Similarly, adding more Wi-Fi points will lead to more congestion. Why? Simply because the more of it there is to go around (especially something as in-demand as Wi-Fi), the heavier the data traffic will be.

According to research we carried out last year, we found that in an average area, the Wi-Fi capacity unavailable for use, due to inefficiencies, was enough to stream another 25 HD videos. By managing what is already in place with greater efficiency, operators would be able to connect the unconnected seamlessly.

Today, operators have visibility across the network like never before, and thus have the ability to create the optimal environment for Wi-Fi capacity. An environment in which the spectrum is effectively managed and optimized will ensure quality of service (QoS), quality of experience (QoE) and maintain connectivity for end-users, even in congested areas. Network assurance in zones where interference is extremely likely will ultimately be the differentiator in getting the urban unconnected online. More connections mean little if they are left unmanaged and to their “own devices”, and it is only with careful planning and freeing much needed network capacity that we could see the number of urban unconnected decrease by the time June 20th comes around next year.

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