High up in a glass tower in Barcelona, Telefonica's research and development team has been attempting to tackle exactly this question. The solution they have come up with, BeWifi, is a technology that gathers bandwidth from local Wi-Fi routers in order to enhance the connection of the users that happen to be on the Internet at exactly that moment in time.
Telefonica started to research the idea, without making changes to existing infrastructure, in 2008. "We were exploring what would be the opportunities for bringing the peer-to-peer and sharing phenomenon into this arena," Pablo Rodriguez, Telefonica's Director of Product Innovation and Research, told Wired.co.uk.
"Your broadband connection is not used 100 percent of the time," he explained. "If you bring [connections] together smartly and manage to aggregate the spare capacity...[it's] a much better customer experience."
The way Telefonica has made this happen in a practical way is to build its own routers that can be installed in houses within a neighborhood. So far these have had to be installed by engineers, but the next generation are plug-and-play, and eventually all that will be needed is an over-the-air software update to customers' existing routers. According to Rodriguez, the software "creates a mesh to aggregate the capabilities [of the routers]." Pooling all of the bandwidth from these routers allows anyone within the network to take advantage of it at home, and they can also connect to any BeWifi network they come across on their mobile devices when out and about.
"From a technical point of view it's not trivial because you have to develop the software that is on the router to make sure that the router not only communicates with itself but also communicates in a mesh way with the other routers that are in the neighborhood," says Rodriguez.
The technology's only limitation is the actual Wi-Fi bandwidth available, he says. "What you need is some densely populated area—it could either be a small village or it could be a high-rise building, but you need to have some sort of community that is able to share the bandwidth."