Go ahead and take a look at how many wireless networks can be detected on the device you’re using to read this story. Chances are, you’ll see quite a few, especially if you’re in a city. If you’re using Wi-Fi, this article, and whatever else you’re after on the internet, came to you a little bit slower than it might otherwise have.
“You’re at an airport, a convention, or hotel and you break out your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, hoping you can get a Wi-Fi connection,” Federal Communications Commission Chair Julius Genachowski said at an open meeting last month. “One moment you’re saying, ‘Great, I can get online.’ Moments later, you’re saying, ‘Not so fast,’ literally … Wi-Fi congestion is a very real and growing problem.”
Researchers in the Netherlands say that in crowded environments, less than 20% of a Wi-Fi network’s bandwidth may go to actual internet use, as the rest gets taken up with managing all those devices using the network. Genachowski, the supervisor of America’s airwaves, has spent his tenure since 2009 focused on figuring out what to do with all the bits clogging up the airwaves as an increasing amount of wireless traffic from cellphones winds up on Wi-Fi, even as more tablets and computers compete with an increasing number of hotspots.
At the meeting, he announced plans to open up a new chunk of spectrum to public use, but warned that more action will be needed as usage increases. The satellite company Globalstar has an intriguing–and potentially lucrative—plan to help him in that task, and get itself out of a financial hole in the process.