/ Technology

Are we draining our wi-fi networks dry?

Most of us now have around five devices connected to our home wi-fi network – a figure that’s only going to rise. But, when many don’t have – or can’t get – high-speed broadband, how sustainable is our usage?

How many devices would you expect most households to have that can connect to the internet? Going back five or six years, I don’t think it would be wrong to assume that most households just had one PC, or at a push, a laptop too.

Roll on to 2011 however, and developments in the technology market mean that UK households now have an average of 4.6 devices connected to a home wi-fi network at any given time.

Wi-fi devices on the rise

This number, given in the 2011 Connectivity Report (commissioned by TP-Link), does not surprise me one bit. I wouldn’t even have batted an eyelid if it was higher. I live in a shared house, so perhaps not a typical example, but we have five laptops, five smartphones, one tablet and a wi-fi printer all sharing one wi-fi connection.

There are an ever-increasing number of devices that we can connect to our household wi-fi networks. Wi-fi printers are now commonplace, not to mention tablets, ebook readers, games consoles, smartphones and smart TVs. There are even plans for wi-fi connected fridges and cookers in the future, though what use they’ll be I’m not sure.

We’ve certainly wasted no time in getting connected. So what difference does this make to our current and future broadband needs?

Can our broadband cope?

Simon Towler, Head of Spectrum for the Broadband and International ICT Policy, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, recently commented at a Westminster eForum I attended.

He spoke about the fact that there’s no one application, even high definition (HD) TV streaming right now, that is going to eat up all of a 40Mbps connection. He went on to point out that stacking up all the things in the house, over a number of households, is the sort of thing that’s eating up bandwidth at the moment.

But this assumes that people have high-speed broadband, which is still in the minority. We also know this kind of service isn’t always possible depending on where you live, and it is of course more expensive. If you can’t get fast broadband speeds then multiple users sharing one connection are likely to cause even more of a problem.

Don’t get throttled

There is one other issue that plagues me here too, and that’s ‘traffic management’, otherwise known as throttling. This is something that a number of broadband providers use in order to manage traffic on its connection at peak times.

In some cases, heavy users can have their connections slowed at these times. In a family home, where multiple people are using one wi-fi connection, could you be more likely to be classed as a ‘heavy user’?

Traffic management policies are something I’m going to be taking a closer look at in the New Year so do let me know any experiences or concerns you’ve had. Are you surprised at the average number of wi-fi connected devices in a UK household? Can you beat me?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

It is important to differentiate between using Wi-Fi and Internet access.

Profile photo of pdfisk
Member

Absolutely! In this house computers communicate using w-ifi with our servers and printer without having the slightest effect on the load on the broadband. Its only accessing the internet where we hit our broadband limits.

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

Absolutely, the article really confuses the issues of using a wifi network within the home (if any) and individual devices getting slow broadband as several devices are sharing one broadband connection.

In practice unless the devices are streaming video or downloading very large files there wont be a problem !

Profile photo of Catherine West
Member

Hi all, indeed – as you quite rightly point out – there are two issues here. I was thinking more around the latter (the increase in the ways we access the internet in the home) and what effect this will have on broadband demands. I was using the survey – showing how many devices on average we now have connected to one household wi-fi connection – to prove this trend rather than comment on the load on the wi-fi networks themselves. Apologies if this was not clear!

Member
Anon the mouse says:
15 December 2011

Jogglers, laptop, tablet, smartphone, 360, ps3, wii, DS, 3DS, kindle, wireless printer, and a server, all connected to the network via wifi.

The router can handle streaming media between devices and even 3-4 feeds from the net easily. However the problem is the number of devices using wifi at the same time, yes in theory wifi can support 255 devices, however anything over 5 slows it down and over 10 simultaneously is ridiculous slow.

Sadly this means that as the number of devices increase those that can will probably end up back on cat5 (Network cable)

Profile photo of richard
Member

Actually I still use Cat5 cable to connect all my devices to the internet – Have two servers – two desktops – nine printers – 4 laptops – 2 games machines – prefer cable – Only problems are occasional overloaded receiving servers at the other end – I can stream media with no hindrance. Have no use for a smartphone so I don’t have one…

Member
Countdown says:
14 February 2012

I used to work in telecoms and I thought the limiting factor was the number of available channels on the 2.4ghz band which If memory serves me right was 12 or 13 if you are in Japan.
When you add everything up…. Dect phones, wireless central heating programmers and thermostats to add to the already expanding list already given I just can’t see how it all works, especially in shared accommodation or terraced properties. I live in a bungalow and my PC prefers to pick up my neighbours Sky router than mine!…one of the problems of N routers which don’t just have faster speeds but pseudo longer ranges. My old netgear router (before I moved to BT) had dual band, and some up market laptops now use this in an attempt to increase throughput and limit channel collisions.
Re traffic management Talk Talk are a master of that one, even identifying particular devices and throttling them down but not other devices in the home like my Internet radio, or main windows PC.
It is a way of preventing you know really what’s going on…because this is not obvious. At least Plusnet identify whic services are going to be throttled. I am on BT option 3… No traffic management with this, but of course you have to pay.