From: Norm Jacknis (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Nov 07 2002 - 22:08:46 EST
In Search of Broad Technological Compatibility
Regulators will look into ways of sharing airwaves to be used in many
By Jube Shiver Jr.
Times Staff Writer
November 7 2002
WASHINGTON -- Cell phones, remote controls, wireless radios -- can't they
just get along?
Federal regulators believe so, and they are expected today to launch a
examination of the government's management of the nation's valuable
move that could pave the way for cheaper and more innovative wireless
At their monthly meeting, members of the Federal Communications Commission
scheduled to consider a highly anticipated report on spectrum management
recommends a more flexible approach to sharing the airwaves, including an
overhaul of the standards for governing airwave interference and provisions
allow owners of airwave licenses to resell them under certain circumstances.
Separately, the agency also is expected to authorize the opening up of more
airwaves for advanced wireless services.
Although the report is still being fine-tuned and may not be released until
later this month, its emergence represents the first significant response to
nearly decade-long push for more flexible use of the airwaves by companies
as Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., free-speech advocates and influential
thinkers such as Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig.
They say the airwaves should be treated like the Internet, an open
communications system that nobody owns. They want the nearly 70-year-old
of government regulation of the airwaves modified so that individuals and
entrepreneurs would be free to use and trade any spectrum, so long as they
not interfere with other users.
But some powerful wireless industry lobbying groups -- which also are
supporters of spectrum reform -- are concerned that the FCC may not pay
attention to potential interference problems.
"We need to see the specifics," said Thomas Wheeler, president of the
Telecommunications & Internet Assn. in Washington.
Among other details, Wheeler said the FCC would have to wrestle with how to
police interference among rivals trying to gain a competitive advantage.
needs to be some kind of strong sanction, not just a fine" against users
cause airwave interference, he said.
Proponents of a more flexible approach say deregulation will enable more
innovative wireless devices and boost wireless networking technologies such
WiFi and ultra-wide-band, which have helped spur demand for wireless
for PCs and other machines. Shipments of equipment for wireless networking
expected to balloon from 9 million units in 2001 to about 56 million by
according to the research group Allied Business Intelligence Inc.
Experts believe that with deregulation, WiFi and ultra-wideband could
the deployment of high-speed Internet access through phone and cable-TV
making cheap and ubiquitous broadband access available nationwide by 2006.
University of Pennsylvania professors Gerald R. Faulhaber and David J.
say a good way to kick off this new wireless era would be to conduct a one-
time "big bang auction" for all the nation's airwaves and then allow
trading of the spectrum.
"Individuals and corporations would be able to buy, sell and lease specific
frequencies in specific locations subject to power [and other technical]
limitations, and would possess the right to ... [transmit] at anytime
interference," they wrote in a July filing to the FCC.
FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell didn't return a call seeking comment. But he
signaled last week that spectrum reform will be a cornerstone of his effort
revive the beleaguered telecom industry.
"We should develop policies that avoid interference rules that are barriers
entry," he said during an address at the University of Colorado in
Boulder. "While the proliferation of technology strains the old paradigm, it
also technology that will ultimately free spectrum from its former
The campaign has gathered steam in recent months, spurred by industry
A technology called software defined radio, or SDR, was authorized by the
last year and is being used to develop intelligent transceivers that can
navigate through the congested airwaves without causing electro-magnetic
SDR allows telecom service providers to offer devices that can jump from one
communications channel to another as transmission standards change and as
unused airwaves become available.
Such flexibility would be especially valuable in the United States, which --
unlike Europe and Asia -- has more than four competing cellular phone
as well as a host of wireless computer network standards. Engineers envision
day when a cell phone or hand-held computer will automatically reprogram
to access all of these networks and even act as a TV remote or pager.
"SDR can mitigate the downsides of having multiple wireless transmission
standards by making more efficient use of spectrum," said Vanu Bose, chief
executive of Vanu Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., start-up that will demonstrate a
software defined radio device later this month in San Diego.
On Capitol Hill, several bills have been introduced to promote airwave
including a measure by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that would more than
double the amount of spectrum available for unregulated wireless services
"Spectrum reform is coming this year one way or another -- whether through
legislation or through the FCC," said Ellen Goodman, an associate professor
law at Rutgers University who has followed the issue.
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