FCC expands spectrum for wireless use

The Federal Communications Commission says it is setting aside additional spectrum for devices that use unlicensed radio frequencies.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
2 min read
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is increasing the radio spectrum available for wireless networking services.

The FCC said Thursday that it is adding 255 megahertz of spectrum in the 5 gigahertz range--an increase of 80 percent--for devices that use unlicensed radio frequencies.

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"Making this additional spectrum available will ensure the continued deployment of unlicensed wireless broadband networks," Michael Powell, chairman of the FCC, said in a statement.

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The availability of unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi products is key to the success of wireless networking gear. The use of unlicensed spectrum means that consumers and manufacturers don't have to pay for airtime in those radio bands, making wireless networking an inexpensive means of sending and receiving data. By increasing the amount of spectrum for unlicensed use, the FCC is essentially giving manufacturers more room to create new products and markets, said Allen Nogee, an analyst at research firm In-Stat/MDR.

The additional spectrum "isn't needed now, but (it will be) maybe in two to five years; it's more of a proactive approach," Nogee said. "Now is a better time than waiting to find that it's used up...You can't have products if there isn't available spectrum."

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The FCC and political figures in Washington have been encouraging the development of wireless technologies, looking at it as another means--along with cable and digital subscriber line--of delivering high-speed connectivity to the masses. Early this year, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and George Allen, R-Va., proposed the Jumpstart Broadband Act, which would allocate additional radio spectrum for unlicensed use by wireless broadband devices.

Powell said the spectrum will give manufacturers more flexibility to avoid interference with other services sharing the same band.

Different countries have made slightly different frequencies available to manufacturers, so they have to create slightly different products for each country. The FCC's move is also meant to align the same band across a number of countries so that manufacturers can sell the same products in a number of countries, which would reduce product development costs.