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Wireless networks get radio patch

The FCC could make it cheaper and safer for schools, libraries, and hospitals to tap into radio data networks.

The Federal Communications Commission today made it easier for schools and other organizations to get hooked up to the Internet, no strings attached.

The FCC granted a patch of radio spectrum for short-range, high-speed wireless communications. Unlike the private wireless bands dedicated to cellular and personal communications systems (PCS), the 300 MHz of spectrum allotted today by the FCC will be unlicensed so that users will not have to pay for air time when surfing the Net or accessing files.

The FCC's decision could make it cheaper and safer for schools, libraries, and hospitals to tap into data networks. Instead of ripping up building walls and ceilings to install cables, the FCC expects a new set of wireless devices based on the spectrum will let organizations set up inexpensive wireless LANs (local area networks).

"The issue with wireless is that in a lot of cases you have asbestos in the walls and the inside wiring issues are often extremely expensive," said an FCC spokesman.

Although the spectrum will not be limited to nonprofit organizations, the FCC expects that those groups will benefit most from it. The spectrum, which falls into the 5.15 to 5.35 GHz and 5.725 to 5.825 GHz ranges, will also not be limited to providing Internet access. Hospitals, for example, will be able to use a wireless LAN to access digital copies of X-rays and other patient data over proprietary networks.

The two higher and lower spectrum bands will be dedicated to outdoor and indoor networks, respectively.