Spectrum Deal Strikes Balance

U.S. agencies, wireless companies reach accord on 5GHz allocation.

Officials at several U.S. agencies and wireless industry companies last week agreed on how to allocate spectrum in the hotly contested 5GHz band in a deal that gives wireless LANs more space but less priority over other signals.

The agreement among the Department of Defense, NASA, the Federal Communications Commission and others benefits the wireless industry because it allocates an extra 255MHz of spectrum for the WLAN standard 802.11a, which already has 325MHz of spectrum allocated.

However, the deal mandates that products running in the band become more sensitive to military signals in the area, which could ultimately slow those products.

For months, the Defense Department has resisted giving up any space in the 5GHz band, arguing that the military needs to keep channels clear for radar. But government and industry pressure has been mounting.

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., since last fall have been pushing a bill that would set aside 255MHz of new spectrum for WLAN hot spots. And several companies, including Microsoft Corp., have been lobbying the FCC for more spectrum.

Last July, the Redmond, Wash., company told the FCC that additional unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band would let the company deploy wireless broadband networks that would compete with digital subscriber line and cable modems.

Furthermore, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC wanted to come to a consensus so that the country would look like a unified force with respect to the band.

"The [United States] is now able to formalize its position with respect to earth exploration satellite systems, mobile and radio location services at 5GHz and will now fully support these allocations," said Nancy Victory, assistant secretary of commerce and an administrator at the NTIA, in Washington.

At the International Telecommunication Union-sponsored World Radio Conference in Geneva in June, a U.S. ambassador will argue for a worldwide allocation of space in the 5GHz band.

"The whole purpose of the WRC is to get all the countries of the world to have similar spectrum rules," said Rich Redelfs, president and CEO of Atheros Communications Inc., the leading 802.11a component company, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Radio [signals] dont stop at country boundaries."

An international agreement at the WRC could free as much as 455MHz of "harmonized" spectrum in the 5GHz band worldwide.