Tech crowd welcomes FCC's Wi-Fi expansion plans

More capacity would be great, attendees at the densely networked show said

CES attendees took to the FCC's plan for more Wi-Fi spectrum, which was announced at the show on Wednesday, like hungry gamblers to a buffet.

"At this current conference, I would love more Wi-Fi," said Ellen Arnold, a product strategy program manager at Ubuntu OS distributor Canonical. Though she's usually happy with the performance of Wi-Fi, Arnold has found herself resorting to expensive international data roaming just to get email on the CES show floor.

The massive tech trade show is just the kind of place the Federal Communications Commission had in mind when it decided to seek 35 percent more spectrum for Wi-Fi, Chairman Julius Genachowski said as he introduced the initiative. The additional spectrum would boost speeds and help more people use a given network, he said.

However, Canonical's Arnold wasn't sure how the extra spectrum would affect her daily life at home in London, since the FCC doesn't dictate spectrum rules outside the U.S. How the plan will affect the global market for high-volume Wi-Fi gear is one thing that isn't yet clear.

Lois Eiler, a marketing associate at CTA Digital, which makes iPad and gaming accessories, also welcomed the idea and lamented the struggle to get a good Wi-Fi signal on the tech-heavy show floor.

It's important to take the long view with a proposal as complex as sharing Wi-Fi spectrum with federal agencies, according to Brian Van Harlingen, chief technology officer at Belkin International, which makes Wi-Fi routers.

"I think that would be a wonderful thing," Van Harlingen said. "It could change the landscape for people five years from now."

However, the sharing aspect of the proposal is likely to introduce both political and technical complexities, he said. As with the arrangements made recently for sharing "white spaces" spectrum among different types of users, there may have to be either a database to keep track of conflicting users or a listening protocol to detect them when they are nearby, he said.

Adding 195MHz more spectrum for Wi-Fi is a good idea for keeping up with growing demand for capacity for tasks such as rendering mobile games. New mobile chips such as Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon processor are helping to drive that growth, IHS chip analyst Tom Hackenberg said as he waited in line for a demonstration of the chip at Qualcomm's booth. However, this probably won't be the last time more frequencies will be needed, he said. Even if the FCC succeeds in getting the additional spectrum for Wi-Fi, Hackenberg predicted more such proposals in the future.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Topics: CES, Belkin International, Networking, regulation, wireless, canonical, U.S. Federal Communications Commission, government, WLANs / Wi-Fi
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