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Wireless powwow takes aim at spectrum

Technology executives tell government officials how to shake up the wireless spectrum in order to make room for innovation amid the current Wi-Fi boom.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--With the boom in Wi-Fi growing by the day, Silicon Valley executives seized the chance on Monday to make sure that Uncle Sam will make the right policy moves for the wireless future.

Representatives of various wireless industries--such as chipmaking and software development--and government officials got together at Intel's campus to discuss the limitations of current U.S. policy and to come up with ways to improve the management of spectrum in order to encourage wireless innovation.

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"The way in which we are distributing spectrum is inefficient," said Kevin Kahn, a senior fellow at Intel. "Too much is in low-valued uses, and too little is in high-valued uses...The current system prevents markets and technology from improving the distribution."

The popularity of Wi-Fi is spurring the development of a number of new wireless technologies as well as of unconventional uses of existing spectrum. There is a limited amount of spectrum, or radio bandwidth, available for public use, and the tech industry is concerned that it isn't being exploited to consumers and providers' full benefit.

"Spectrum is the rocket fuel of the next generation of technological innovation," said Michael Gallagher, the acting assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Gallagher is expected to convey the industry concerns raised at the meeting to policymakers in Washington, D.C. The gathering was sponsored by two trade groups, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Consumer Electronics Association.

Government agencies have played an active role in the development of wireless policy and innovation. The Federal Communications Commission has been freeing up the lower-band spectrum used for over-the-air television broadcasts to make it available for other uses. Lower bands are valuable, because they enable radio waves to travel farther and require less power than higher bands do.

In addition, the Department of Defense has raised questions about the allocation of wireless networking bands and national security.

At the meeting, manufacturers called for the opening up of lower bands and for the loosening of government policy to make it easier for developers to come up with new products and devices.

"There is never enough (spectrum), but maybe it's not how much but what we do with it," Intel's Kahn said.