Feature Article

February 20, 2013

FCC Votes to Ease Wireless Jams by Expanding Wi-Fi

In an effort to ease some of the heavy traffic and Wi-Fi congestion in airports, as well as, other high use hubs, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is attempting to open up certain portions of the airwaves. The FCC voted unanimously, 5-0 to write new rules that would open more U.S. airwaves to Wi-Fi devices.

At a monthly meeting in Washington, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Wi-Fi congestion is a very real and growing problem. We’re at the early stage of this but it will only get worse as Wi-Fi use grows.”

The FCC’s proposal would make available for public use some of the airwaves that are now largely used by government entities such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration. They currently use these airwaves in question for navigation, surveillance and other activities that are not mentioned.

Genachowski said, "This proposal today is based on a tremendous amount of engineering work, so we don't now see any reason why we can't put 195 new megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed use on the market and do it in a way that's compatible with other existing users."

The proposed rule would add 195 MHz of unlicensed spectrum to the 555 MHz currently available in the less congested 5 GHz radio frequency band. The proposal is also trying to come up with better technical rules for sharing the spectrum airwaves used for Wi-Fi transmission. Genachowski went on to say that the FCC will consult with federal and non U.S. users of nearby airwaves to enable non-interfering shared use.

The idea is to move ahead as quickly as possible with no delays. Of course you should all know by now that nothing is ever that easy. Automakers and their suppliers say that the new Wi-Fi frequencies could jam car-to-car wireless communications systems. These are systems that are currently being developed to prevent accidents.

Wade Newton is a spokesperson for the Washington based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He said, “Automakers have already invested heavily in the research and development of these safety critical systems, and our successes have been based on working closely with our federal partners. It is imperative that, as we move forward, we do adequate research and testing on potential interference issues that could arise from opening up this band to unlicensed users.”

The FCC said that it would take comments on the plan before voting on a final passage of the proposal. The plan for Wi-Fi is part of President Obama’s strategy to expand airwaves sharing. It is a plan to cope with a shortage of frequencies that threatens to slow wireless Internet traffic. The FCC will listen to comments for the plan.

Analysts forecast implementation would take months given the concerns that wider use of the new airwaves would risk interfering with important government programs already on those wavelengths. FCC officials said the goal was particularly to boost wireless connections at stadiums, airports, convention centers and other places where large numbers of people try to use the Internet at the same time.

Given the fact that more and more Wi-Fi devices are being activated every day by the “I want to be connected everywhere” generation, there is definitely a need to access more of the spectrum. However, this cannot come at the cost of ignoring everything else. While we can all see the need to move ahead as quickly as possible with something like this, we shouldn’t lose sight of the potential problems. We do not want to take away from the automakers ability to provide safer driving experiences simply to let someone at the airport do last minute shopping. What is more important, having someone at a stadium let their friends know that they are at the ballgame by posting it on a social media site or getting to the ballgame safely?

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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