The European Commission has put its support to WiFi by requiring all 25 European Union member countries to offer the 5GHz frequency band for wireless services.

The Commission, the EU's executive body and main telecommunications regulator, announced that all member states would have to make two frequency bands (5159-5350 MHz and 5470-5725 MHz) available for WiFi Internet services from November 1 this year.

The new frequencies will enable WiFi service providers to offer a greater range of services and avoid capacity shortages on the current 2.4GHz standard.

It will mean, for example, that companies will be able to offer standard transmission rates starting at 54Mbps (bits per second), which is currently the theoretical maximum rate for 2.4GHz devices, many of which still offer only 11Mbps.

The Commission is also requiring member states to ensure that other radio spectrum users are protected against interference from the WiFi band.

120 million wireless users

The 5GHz band is already available in the US and the Asia-Pacific region, and the Commission hopes that the new spectrum will lead to a further rapid increase in the number of WiFI hotspots in the EU.

At the moment, the Asia-Pacific region leads the world with the highest number of hotspots, 29,400, compared to 26,000 in Western Europe and 22,700 in the US, according to 2005 figures from Pyramid Research, quoted by the Commission.

There are currently 120 million WiFi users worldwide, including 25 million in Western Europe, according to figures quoted by the Commission. But this number is expected to rise to around 500 million over the next three years.

The new service is also expected to give a boost to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) providers.

However, take-up of the new service will depend on computer manufacturers and wireless access equipment makers offering products that exploit the new frequency.