More Cellphone Data Use Is Negatively Affecting Wi-Fi Performance, Study Finds
An anonymous reader shares the findings of a new study from the University of Chicago. From a report: If service becomes slow when you’re trying to send a quick email on your smartphone, you might scroll through your network options and discover how many Wi-Fi networks there are. In fact, this plethora of options is itself the problem. These networks are in competition with one another, limiting the speed at which each can operate. University of Chicago researchers have demonstrated how this increased network competition could negatively impact internet service for everyday users.

When a cellular provider, such as T-Mobile or AT&T, licenses a spectrum band from the FCC, they reserve its exclusive use. As a result, networks operating on licensed bands experience little interference. This allows providers to establish fast and reliable service, but it comes at a cost. To improve bandwidth [to accommodate] more users] without breaking the bank, these providers have begun to also use the unlicensed spectrum via cellular networks using a mode called licensed assisted access (LAA), which operates on the same bands used for Wi-Fi. [The researchers] set out to examine how this shared use of the unlicensed spectrum, called coexistence, impacted both Wi-Fi and cellular users.

“We actually found an LAA station located on the UChicago campus, on a pole in front of the bookstore, and in this outside space campus Wi-Fi is also in use,” [Monisha Ghosh, associate member in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago and research professor in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering] said. “That provided an experimental platform in our backyard, so we started taking measurements.” […] By accessing multiple networks simultaneously, the group found that competition decreased performance — reducing the amount of data transmitted, the speed of transmission, and the signal quality. This competition was particularly detrimental to Wi-Fi. When LAA was also in active use, data transmitted by Wi-Fi users decreased up to 97%. Conversely, LAA data only exhibited a 35% decrease when Wi-FI was also in use. Ghosh explained that the incompatibility between Wi-Fi and LAA owes in part to the different protocols each employs to deal with heavy internet traffic.
The researchers presented their findings in a paper via arXiv.

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