RLAN (radio local area networks) or WLAN (wireless local area networks) are often referred to as Wi-Fi networks, from the standard most commonly used for this type of short-range wireless communication. These networks provide the French population with everyday connectivity, in the workplace, at home and in many public places. They are a vital resource for cellular traffic offloading.
The term “local network” — such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — is generally understood to apply to networks operating in licence-exempt bands under a general authorisation (for a discussion of the general authorisation regime, particularly within a framework of dynamic spectrum sharing, see, for example, the report by Joëlle Toledano, Une gestion dynamique du spectre pour l’innovation et la croissance/Dynamic spectrum management for innovation and growth, published in March 2014), often in the home, over short distances and which require users to procure the requisite device (Internet box, for example) and configure their network. Local networks differ from “operated” networks – which are open to the public, generally managed by mobile operators and giving nationwide coverage – or from private networks such as TETRA, which rely on individual authorisations.
Wi-Fi mainly uses two frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, which are shared with many other applications (radars, Earth observation systems or intelligent transport systems).
Cisco reported that traffic carried on cellular networks in 2015 was, for the first time ever, lower than the traffic offloaded from them via Wi-Fi access or femtocells. To meet this growing demand, the industry would like access to wider bands in the 5 GHz range in order to implement new generations of RLAN technologies: wider bandwidth channels would offer speeds comparable to those of optical fibre.
The question of widening the Wi-Fi bands in the 5 GHz range has been under consideration since 2013 and appears on the agenda for WRC-19. In another development, the first “WiGig” devices are starting to appear on the market in the 57-66 GHz band, operating at multi-gigabit per second speeds. WiGig’s short range, however, restricts its usefulness other than as a complement to other bands or with several relays.
3GPP has also developed a number of solutions for making use of the resources available in the Wi-Fi bands, and combining them with mobile operator network resources, with the aim of providing ever-higher speeds. This may involve the simple aggregation of data flows on the Wi-Fi and mobile networks. Another solution might be, subject to the technical conditions of the general authorisation, to introduce LTE technology into these bands, particularly LTE-LAA (LTE License Assisted Access) in the 5 GHz range. ANFR has worked closely with ETSI to ensure that LTE-LAA and Wi-Fi technologies are able to coexist without one pre-empting all the capacity at the expense of the other, in accordance with the principle of technological neutrality.