Agreement to spark more Wi-Fi

FCC memorandum of understanding

The Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) last week signed a memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination.

The agreement enables the wireless industry to produce more Wi-Fi products, as long as they do not interfere with military radars.

The FCC manages the nation's nonfederal telecommunications spectrum, including users in the commercial broadcast, public safety, and state and local government sectors. NTIA is responsible for the federal space—including the Defense Department, which is the federal government's largest user. The majority of the telecommunications spectrum is shared between federal and nonfederal users, which requires the FCC and NTIA to coordinate spectrum policy.

The Pentagon had repeatedly expressed concerns that Wi-Fi, or 802.11b wireless network devices, which provide connectivity up to about 300 feet, could interfere with DOD radar systems. But after months of technical discussions and analyses with wireless industry vendors, the Pentagon fully supports the new agreement, said Badri Younes, DOD's director for spectrum management.

"There are a little more relaxed constraints on Wi-Fi, and we've been assured full protection of our radars," Younes said in a Feb. 4 interview. "The technical experts converged on a solution that provides full protection of military radars while allowing Wi-fi technology to move forward."

The memorandum, which was signed Jan. 31 by FCC Chairman Michael Powell and NTIA Administrator Nancy Victory, will apply to coordination of spectrum issues involving federal and nonfederal users.

"Ultimately, this partnership will mean more efficient regulatory processes that will speed the deployment of new innovative spectrum-based services to consumers," Powell said in a statement.

Victory agreed and said that the U.S. government must work together as "one spectrum team" to deal with critical spectrum management issues.

The FCC and NTIA have been operating under a previous memorandum of understanding from October 1940. The new agreement establishes procedures relating to frequency coordination, and also includes spectrum-planning provisions.

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