Opinion: Boris, stop talking about the mythical 5G. Lets roll-out Wi-FAR with its 64-mile radius

London’s mayor spoke of his commitment to 5G this week, which is great, but I couldn’t help but think we should stop talking about it – considering we don’t even know what it is yet – and start putting technology into action which is readily available and could very well change how we connect to the internet in the “tech capital” he envisions…

Previously I lived in my parents’ house where there was four of us all sharing an 802.11g Wi-Fi connection in separate rooms. My brother and I are big fans of multiplayer gaming, and anyone else who is, or has just had an important file transfer cancel near-completion, will know the anguish from a dropped connection caused by poor Wi-Fi range.

To solve our woes, we resulted to setting-up Wi-Fi extenders in each room throughout the home. This is a solution which works relatively fine for small homes, but as you move into bigger buildings, and large-scale businesses – then the costs start ramping up.

Back then it was hard to imagine the dream of seamless Wi-Fi connectivity around your city and in your vehicle when you’re at home looking at a “disconnected” message in a place where you expect connectivity to be readily available and reliable. 3G came along, 4G is rolling-out, and for many we believed we’d be tied to cellular networks for the foreseeable future when it comes to on-the-move access…

A new Wi-Fi standard was approved back in 2011, 802.22, which makes use of spectrum in ranges from 54MHz to 698MHz that were left-over from the digital TV transformation. The most impressive part of the standard is that it has a range of 62 miles from a single base station, in each direction. Yes, 802.22 has coverage of 12,000 square miles.

It also supports transfer rates up to 22Mbps, which up to today’s standard may not sound impressive, but in most cases is more than enough to get your business done via a municipal Wi-Fi until you can get back to whatever superfast service you’ve signed up to at home.

Unfortunately, since it was approved, it has yet to see a mass roll-out. This is a shame as city-wide Wi-Fi connections could remove our shackles to mobile operators. We may not have to wait much longer, however. Tech giants including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are cranking up their own efforts into 802.22 (under its trademarked name of Wi-FAR) in regions such as Africa and India to help get people online. Their work is certainly more valuable there, but let’s hope it won’t be long before we also realise its potential.

Do you think cities should roll-out Wi-FAR? Let us know in the comments.

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