Speeds in Hotspots Catch up to Latest Smartphones

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Many hotspots in Europe still use older Wi-Fi standards, but that is slowly changing, good news for owners of the growing number of smartphones and laptops that can access the Web using 802.11n.

On laptops, 802.11n is already a standard feature, and during the last couple of months it has quickly become a more common feature on high-end smartphones, including the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S. And while owners of those products will be able to take advantage of higher speeds and better coverage at home and work, many hotspots still use older and slower standards and can't offer the same advantages.

But that is about to change, at least for some users. In August, The Cloud, which operates about 12,000 hotspots in the U.K, Germany and Scandinavia, will start installing new access points that can handle 802.11n, according to Roald Sandén, general manager for the Nordic region at The Cloud. Starting in August, it will also start upgrading old access points, a process that in Sweden, Denmark and Norway will take a year, Sandén said.

The Cloud has taken a more cautions approach to 802.11n than it did when its predecessor 802.11g arrived. Being an early adopter of 802.11g resulted in some interoperability issues, which it wants to avoid this time, Sandén said.

The Cloud isn't the only hotspot operator that is adopting 802.11n. BT Openzone is already in the process of upgrading its hotspots, a spokesman said via e-mail. BT Openzone users can access the Web using 802.11n via Wi-Fi community FON, he said.

In France, some of Bouygues hotspots support 802.11n, a spokesman said.

The way 802.11n is implemented on smartphones means the speed will be lower than on laptops. They lack support for MIMO, a technology that uses multiple antennas in the access point and on the device to increase throughput. Still, the actual throughput on smartphones is expected to be up to 35M bps (bits per second), according to Samsung.

The growing popularity of smartphones has profoundly affected the popularity of Wi-Fi hotspots, and the data traffic has doubled every five months, according to Sandén. However, unlike many mobile operators, The Cloud isn't afraid of the growing amounts of traffic: "This is what we have been waiting for," he said.

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