FCC Boosts Wi-Fi Speeds

Commission frees airwaves to strengthen public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Man typing on a laptop.

The amount of data downloaded from wireless devices will surpass downloads through wired connections in 2016.

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Tablets, laptops and phones are going to have faster Internet connections soon, thanks to a vote by the Federal Communications Commission to set aside more wireless spectrum for use by unlicensed services such as Wi-Fi.

The FCC vote on Monday is part of the commission’s effort to free up more airwaves for commercial use to feed the growth of the mobile device industry.

Just how fast is that industry of phones and tablets growing? The amount of data downloaded from wireless devices will surpass downloads through wired connections including desktops in 2016. By the end of 2014 the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on Earth, according to research from Cisco Systems.

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Unlicensed spectrum is free for use by any company and strengthens signals of houseware devices including garage door openers, but the most popular use of that section of radio airwaves is Wi-Fi signals at hotspots including coffee shops. The FCC voted to shift spectrum previously used by satellite communications company Globalstar, adding 100 MHz of spectrum for wireless devices in the 5 GHz band, and remove power restrictions on Wi-Fi devices to increase the strength of their signals.

This will benefit both consumer access and innovation by companies, said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement on Monday.

“It will make it easier to get online wirelessly in public places like airports and convention centers, as well as in your living room,” Wheeler said. “This is also a big win for American innovators. The changes we are making will provide fertile ground for the growth of ‘Gigabit Wi-Fi’ – the latest generation of ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi that can provide data speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit per second.