The European Commission opened access to a new radio frequency that it said will speed up wireless access to the Internet in coffee shops and airports throughout Europe.

The European Commission said on Thursday it was making available part of the 5 gigahertz (GHz) band for Wi-Fi, a technology used by laptops for high-speed, wireless connections to the Internet.

The new spectrum will allow data transfer at 50 megabits per second compared with 10 megabits on the current 2.4 GHz radio band, originally used for microwave ovens.

The new spectrum will be made available throughout the 25-nation European Union and the Commission wants member states to implement the move before November.

"We are expecting from today's decision economies of scale to develop and European citizens and companies will profit from faster connections to the Internet," Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr told a daily briefing.

Japan and the United States are also implementing rules for the use of 5 GHz range for Wi-Fi, which is also used by military and satellite services, the Commission said.

The frequency will also give consumers access to Voice over IP in hotspots around the world, allowing them to avoid the high roaming charges imposed by mobile phone companies.

The Commission said the number of hotspots in western Europe is expected to rise to 45,000 by the end of this year from 26,000. This compares with a current number of 29,400 in Asia-Pacific and 22,700 in the United States.

"Today's Commission decision will help industry to create innovative services, such as wireless Voice over IP, for a single European market," said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding.

According to market analysts, the number of Wi-Fi users worldwide should rise to more than 500 million over the next three years from 120 million currently, the Commission said.

Manufacturers have already started to ship equipment that can use part of the 5 GHz band and the existing band.

Separately, the Commission also asked for feedback on how to bridge the broadband digital divide between Europe's urban areas that have easy access to high-speed Internet compared with rural areas.

A survey recently showed that broadband was available to 90 percent of the urban population in western Europe but only 62 percent of the rural population.


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