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FCC SETS ASIDE 300 MEGAHERTZ TO ALLOW WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS

WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules Jan. 9 that will allow users of unlicensed Part 15 equipment, including laptop computers, to access the Internet wirelessly.

By unanimous vote, commissioners ordered that 300 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.15 GHz-5.35 GHz and 5.725-5.825 GHz ranges will be made available on a shared basis to users of what it calls “unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII)” devices, a plan first proposed by Apple Computer Inc. and the Wireless Information Networks Forum (WINForum) some 20 months ago. According to the original notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue, concluded last August, the new broadband allocation will “foster the development of a broad range of new devices, stimulate the growth of new industries and promote the ability of U.S. manufacturers to compete globally by enabling them to develop unlicensed digital products for the world market.” The NPRM first proposed 350 megahertz, but that number was ratcheted down during the comment process.

“There has been a lot of talk in engineering and computer circles that we don’t need excessive licensing anymore, so having some unlicensed spectrum for innovation is good,” said Chairman Reed Hundt. “Now we’ll see if this is just pie in the sky or a 21st-Century reality.”

New services expected to benefit include high-speed data transmission, video imaging and wireless local area networks covering short distances. Office of Engineering and Technology chief Richard Smith likened the allocation to roadways and interstates that lead to a destination, adding that individuals, schools, businesses, manufacturers, libraries and hospitals will reap the benefits of the shared channels.

The new rules include only minimum technical standards, as were proposed earlier, including low power limits, out-of-band emission limits and a “listen-before-talk” protocol. According to OET, the spectrum should be enough to meet future demands without interfering with such incumbent services as mobile satellite operators, which were worried that their feeder links might be affected by a new crop of spectrum users.

“This is an economical and efficient means for Internet access,” commented Commissioner Susan Ness. “There are no licenses or fees, and this has the potential for export.”

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