Regulating WiFi and WLAN
Two wireless technologies that have presented a challenge to some regulators are WiFi and WLAN. Based on the IEEE 802.11 standard, WiFi uses the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands to wirelessly interconnect devices. WiFi cards have become standard accessories in portable computers (as well as increasingly in Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones), and public WiFi “hotspots” have sprung up around the world to provide high-speed wireless connectivity. One of the principal attractions of WLAN devices is that they use what is considered to be unlicensed spectrum in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band. Therefore, service providers do not face the high spectrum acquisition costs that they have encountered in the acquisition of other spectrum such as that required for mobile telephony.
However, regulators must decide whether to treat the ISM band as unlicensed. If the band is treated as unlicensed, then WLANs should be permitted provided its transmitting characteristics fall into those designed for that band. However, in some countries, the 2.4 GHz frequency is considered licensable. In others, the frequency has been allocated to other users. For example, in the Philippines, the electrical utility was authorized to use the 2.4 GHz band1 while in Singapore, the Land Transport Authority used the band for its electronic road pricing scheme. Another spectrum-related problem found in numerous countries is interference caused by equipment operating in excess of the standard. For example, Nigeria has found that although the band is unlicensed, there have been numerous violations of the conditions for the band’s use.2
Nevertheless, the general trend is for regulators to take a hands-off policy and allow WLAN activities without a licence.
2 NCC Press Release, Use of ISM Band for Commercial Telecom Services, 2003, available at http://www.ncc.gov.ng/PressReleases/ismbandcommercialtelecom.htm.