ITU approves additional WLAN spectrum

After more than three weeks of discussions, negotiators at an international radio frequency conference have agreed to allocate additional spectrum to the increasingly popular wireless LAN (WLAN) Internet technology.

Delegates to the 180-nation World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in Geneva reached a final agreement Thursday to add 455 MHz of new spectrum in the 5 GHZ band for WLANs, and were expected sometime Friday to sign off on the accord, said Gary Fowlie, a spokesman for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which heads up the WRC event.

"For the industry, this agreement means that companies will be able to build much larger and more complex networks to handle many more users and different types of applications than they are able to do today," said Rob Jansen, product marketing manager at Proxim.

Under the agreement, 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5.150-5.250 GHZ band will be allocated for indoor WLAN use, while an additional 355 MHz, in the 5.250-5.350 GHz and 5.470-5.725 GHz bands, will be allocated for mixed indoor and outdoor use, according to Jansen.

He defined indoor use as a WLAN signal that starts and ends in a building, say, between an access point and a notebook. Outdoor use, he said, involves signals that are generated outside buildings and linked with devices that are also outside.

Graig Barratt, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Atheros Communications, referred to the Geneva agreement in a statement as a "defining moment for the WLAN industry as a whole." Specifically, the decision will allow 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g networks to offer nine times as many non-overlapping channels as 802.11b and 802.11g-only networks in the U.S. and seven times as many non-overlapping channels in Europe, he said.

Many E.U. governments have restricted outdoor WLAN use due to possible interference problems with aircraft-naviagtion systems, Earth-sensing satellites and other radar technology. "Spectrum in the 5-GHz band, especially in Europe, is very crowded and interference is a big issue," said Sarah Harris, an industry analyst with Strategy Analytics. "The additional spectrum will help establish a guard band to prevent spillage into the public realm."

But some governments, such as France, may decide to continue prohibiting the use of certain bands outdoors, particularly in the 5.4 GHz range, according to Jansen. "France has had a military issue with this band," he said. "Each country is still free to decide which bands it will open up to the public."

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