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World Radiocommunication Conference takes up fight over frequencies

The meeting on global wireless issues could be contentious

By Bob Brewin
June 10, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Global coordination of frequency bands for wireless LANs, spectrum for the European Union-backed Galileo satellite navigation system, and global frequency allocations for a broadband Internet service for airline passengers top the agenda at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03), which began yesterday in Geneva.
The month-long event, which UN agency the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) holds every several years, allocates and manages the radio spectrum on a global basis for a variety of wireless uses, products and technology. It involves representation from more than 180 nations and runs through July 4.
The ITU said in a background paper that the nations participating in WRC-03 will work to ensure "fair and efficient use" of global spectrum resources needed for emerging technologies such as WLANs while protecting older services that use the same frequency bands.
The ITU said proposals for new frequency allocations for WLANs are expected to generate considerable discussion at the conference as delegates work to accommodate "new allocations into an already tightly packed frequency table" in the 5150-to-5725-MHz band, which is also used by radar, aircraft navigation systems and earth-sensing satellites.
In the view of the 172-member U.S. delegation to WRC-03, led by Ambassador Janice Obuchowski, the WRC-03 agenda "touches on nearly every spectrum-dependent service and application that will drive the technological developments of the 21st century," according to a statement released by spokesman John Alden.
New spectrum for WLANs systems -- an industry that's expected to generate $5.2 billion in hardware sales by 2005, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission -- tops the WRC-03 agenda for the U.S. delegation (download PDF). But global coordination of the WLAN spectrum is as important as allocating new frequencies, said Michael Green, manager of global product compliance at WLAN chip manufacturer Atheros Communications Inc.
Currently, WLANs in the U.S. that operate under the 802.11a protocol use frequencies in the 5150-to-5350- and 5725-to-5825-MHz bands. But not all countries use those bands, Green said. The EU and the U.S. have different rules for the 5250-to-5350-MHz slice, with the EU restricting it to indoor use and the U.S. allowing both indoor and outdoor use.
The EU already allows WLANs in the 5470-to-5725-MHz band, whereas the FCC just last week kicked off an administrative procedure aimed at permitting WLANs in those bands, Green said (download PDF). The FCC said it plans to add WLAN service in those bands "consistent with U.S. proposals to WRC-03."
Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Mountain View, Calif.-based Wi-Fi Alliance, said WRC-03 approval of a global standard for WLAN spectrum use would reduce confusion for wireless users who cross



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