Regulatory Treatment of WiFi and WLAN [4.3.2]

Regulatory Treatment of WiFi and WLAN

Two wireless technologies – WiFi and WLAN – have presented a challenge to some regulators.  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 previously encountered in acquiring other spectrum (e.g., for mobile telephony).

However, regulators must decide whether to treat the ISM band as unlicensed.  If treated as such, then WLANs should be permitted to offer service provided their 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.

ENDNOTES

1 Make 2.4-GHz Frequency Free Band, ISP Group Urges NTC, INQ7.net, 3 August 2003, at http://www.inq7.net/inf/2003/aug/04/inf_2-1.htm.

2 NCC Press Release, Use of ISM Band for Commercial Telecom Services, 2003, available at http://www.ncc.gov.ng/PressReleases/ismbandcommercialtelecom.htm.

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