FCC proposal would allocate spectrum for wireless LANs

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC -- Washington, DC) may soon adopt a rule setting aside 350 MHz of spectrum for high-speed communications over short distances. The rule would make it possible for schools, libraries and individuals to hook up to the Internet by using wireless local area networks (LANs), bypassing traditional telephone systems.

Gail Leach Carvelli

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC -- Washington, DC) may soon adopt a rule setting aside 350 MHz of spectrum for high-speed communications over short distances. The rule would make it possible for schools, libraries and individuals to hook up to the Internet by using wireless local area networks (LANs), bypassing traditional telephone systems.

The proposed rule calls for the allocation of spectrum from 5.15 to 5.35 GHz and from 5.725 to 5.875 GHz for use by a new category of unlicensed equipment. The NII/SuperNet devices covered by the rule would provide short-range, high-speed wireless digital information transfers and could support the creation of new wireless LANs.

"This technology will support networking, not only within business and institutions, but also among all types of consumers," says Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (Arlington, VA), which recently announced its support of the proposal. "These devices promise to bring the enormous benefits of wireless LAN technology to the consumer environment," he adds.

Apple Computer and Wireless Information Networks Forum, a group of telecommunications companies that includes AT&T, Motorola and Northern Telecom, petitioned the FCC earlier this year to develop this spectrum proposal. The FCC accepted the petitions and then sought public comment, which will be reviewed by the FCC before the rule is officially adopted.

In a supporting statement, FCC Commissioner Susan Ness said the NII/SuperNet devices would play a vital role in meeting communications needs. "Especially enticing are the prospects for wireless LANs to connect classroom computers to each other -- and the world beyond," she said. "Low-power radio technology can serve as a low-cost, high-bandwidth on-ramp to the information superhighway for the leaders and workers of tomorrow."

As part of the rule, the FCC has proposed only the minimum technical standards necessary to prevent interference with other unlicensed devices and to ensure that spectrum use is efficient. The proposed rules specify power limits, out-of-band emission limits and a basic "listen-before-talk" protocol standard. The FCC will further regulate NII/SuperNet devices under Part 15 of its rules.

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