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Thomas Gee reports that the middle 5 GHz band can be used outdoors in France: This was much awaited because there is a lot of existing equipment and new interest in directional use of the 5 GHz band for point-to-multipoint links. BelAir, SkyPilot, and Strix, to name three companies, use 5 GHz for their mesh backhaul systems in the U.S. The new rules allow up to 1 watt EIRP (effective output) for the 5.470 to 5.725 GHz range.
Esme Vos writes about the European Union’s decision to add 5 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use: The U.S. has had hundreds of megahertz in 5 GHz reserved for some time, but international interest in 5 GHz has been all over the place because of existing uses and other concerns. The EU will make about 450 MHz available now; member countries must implement these rules by October.
The press release on the announcement notes the use of the same kinds of rules that the US has imposed on the middle 5 GHz chunk. Any unlicensed 5 GHz gear for indoor or outdoor use on any of the spectrum in the EU decision and that middle band in the US must use techniques to sidestep radar use by the military and government agencies. Since radar use is intermittent and in fixed locations around the country (typically), this doesn’t impinge much on the use of these bands.
A group of open spectrum enthusiasts met in London last week: The Wireless Utopias meeting was organized by the Open Spectrum UK folks, who earlier this year got together when drafting a response to proposals from Ofcom, the UK regulator. The Wireless Utopias Web site has loads of interesting information and leaders of Open Spectrum UK promise to post a video of last week’s meeting on the site.
Other activities around the push to open spectrum on a license-free basis have also occurred. Article 19, a group that defends freedom of expression as a human right, published an analysis that generally outlines how licensing can be consistent with international human rights law. This paper builds on suggestions made earlier in Open Spectrum UK’s response to Ofcom which is likely the first time that human rights has been cited as a reason why governments are required to essentially default toward the license-free model.
The paper from Article 19 notes that historically the airwaves were mostly used by governments or big corporations using high-powered equipment and as such the practice of licensing such equipment was justifiable because of the risks of interference. But nowadays, devices operate at lower power levels (often because of regulations, though this analysis doesn’t note that fact) and have the capability to compensate for interference. “There is a risk that force of habit might lead some telecommunications regulators to over-regulate modern, low-interference devices,” the report reads.
This document from Article 19 could be useful fodder for groups working in developing countries to free up unlicensed spectrum.
A group of companies and a university in the UK are researching the possibility of using higher power limits for broadband wireless in unlicensed spectrum in rural areas: Lucent is involved in the project. Some people in the U.S. have pushed hard for the FCC to allow higher power in rural areas where the signals wouldn’t interfere with anyone else and where it would be really useful, because of the sparse populations, to be able to really boost the coverage area. Dave Hughes, the well-known, highly regarded researcher, has been vocal in trying to encourage the FCC to make such allowances.
A group of ISPs in Italy is lobbying the government to open up its licensing rules for Wi-Fi: I’m not totally clear on how things stand in Italy, but it looks like the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands are not yet open to unlicensed use. Also, the ISPs are concerned that the government may restrict the use of Wi-Fi to remote regions and only where DSL isn’t available.
Scagaire, an Irish Policy Research Group, submitted comments to a request for comments from ComReg, the regulatory body in Ireland: Among other issues, the response encourages ComReg to pursue any policy that allows for the availability of community, non-profit, non-commercial wireless services. The document also notes a line from the European Convention on Human Rights which restricts the rights of governments to limit the ability of people to send and receive information. That line is beginning to be used as an argument for only issuing licenses as an exception, not the rule. This is the same human rights argument put forth by the newly formed Open Spectrum UK group in its comments to OfCom, the UK regulatory body.
The group also proposes a number of standards that should be set for hardware and software operating in unlicensed frequencies as a way to encourage “good neighbor” policies. The proposals aim to cut down on unnecessary use of spectrum and interference.
The response has another interesting line in its comments. It says that ComReg ought to ensure that end users have the right to share or resell their Internet access through wireless networks. This could become an interesting point and it’s one that I haven’t heard much talk of in Europe. In the U.S., many ISPs, usually those affiliated with the big telcos or cable operators, have expressly forbid customers from even giving Internet access to their neighbors via Wi-Fi. Others, such as Speakeasy, have actually offered to help customers resell the service to their neighbors. It appears that Scagaire is hoping that ComReg might create rules in advance of operators in Ireland trying to limit their customers’ use of their broadband connections. [link via Sascha]
A new group was founded last week in the UK dedicated to influencing spectrum policy toward opening up unlicensed spectrum: Open Spectrum UK is an amalgamation of different community networking groups and non-profit organizations. They came together to submit a response to Ofcom’s Spectrum Framework Review consultation. “In cooperating to produce this statement to Ofcom, the groups involved realized that they agreed with each other 99 percent of the time,” said Robert Horvitz, founder of Open Spectrum International. “They want to continue advocating more license-exempt spectrum after the consultation is over, so as a result they created this alliance.”
John Wilson, who serves as secretary at Arwain.net, a group that is building wireless networks in Cardiff, Wales, is spearheading the new group.
The document submitted to Ofcom focuses on the aspects of Ofcom’s consultation related to license exemption. For example, Ofcom proposed a ceiling of 800 MHz of license-exempt spectrum by 2010 and while Open Spectrum UK finds that to be an adequate amount, the group would like to know how Ofcom came up with that figure and proposed that it be treated not as a maximum but as a preliminary estimate. The group also believes that a total of 800 MHz of unlicensed frequencies likely precludes opening up frequencies in the higher bands, which it believes would be valuable for unlicensed use.
Open Spectrum UK also took issue with Ofcom’s proposal to deny license-exempt cognitive radios. While the group agrees that some requirements may need to be set to prevent potential interference, it objects to a sweeping dismissal of cognitive radio usage.
The authors also set out to influence the overall mindset of the licensing body. According to the EU’s licensing directive and framework for electronic communications, license exemption (or, technically, general authorization) should be the default position for regulators. “It’s not license exemption which needs to be justified by need, it’s licensing which needs to be justified by need,” Horvitz said. While many European countries including the UK are growing more progressive in their thinking toward license exempt, “they still have the habit of thinking of licensing as the default approach to spectrum management,” he said.
The authors link that change of thinking to human rights, in a way that Horvitz says is rarely done. The requirement of governments not to require licenses in the absence of interference is rooted in the European Human Rights Treaty from 1950 which asserts that everyone has the right to send and receive information without interference from the government. But licensing can be seen as interference from the government. The treaty lists some exceptions to the right, such as some forms of broadcasting and for public safety. “When licensing cannot be justified by any of these exceptions, it must be considered a violation of human rights,” the Open Spectrum UK document asserts.
This point is particularly important, Horvitz said. “I believe it’s the first time it has been put on record as a position in what is normally an area where technology rules,” he said. “The root of Europe’s policy to move away from individual licenses to class licenses is based on a human rights perspective. That means you have to prove that it’s necessary for there to be individual licensing,” he said.
Horvitz says he’s not a “fanatic about open spectrum,” but that he recognizes that unlicensed spectrum can be a useful tool.
Horvitz’s group, Open Spectrum International, was founded in August 2004 with a mission of helping countries around the world de-license spectrum for use primarily by Wi-Fi. “It has so much potential for improving access to the Net and driving down costs,” Horvitz said.
The organization will typically focus on the less developed countries, usually outside of Europe, “where reform won’t happen spontaneously,” Horvitz said. But because England tends to be a thought-leader throughout Europe Horvitz got involved in commenting on the recent Ofcom consultation. “We won’t focus on England. It was just an issue that came along where we thought we could make a difference,” he said.
Horvitz’s interest in unlicensed radio dates back 25 years when he became a radio hobbyist. At the time, he refused to get a Ham license because he believed that packet radio ought to be an unlicensed activity. “When the open spectrum movement in the U.S. got rolling in 2000 or 2001, I was so excited because I never thought I’d live long enough to see this become a mass movement,” he said. “Then when Wi-Fi really took off in 2002, its potential in developing countries became immediately clear.”
The Indian government has opened up the 2.4 GHz and 5.1 GHz bands for Wi-Fi use: The 5.1 GHz band can only be used for indoor applications. The government had earlier opened up part of the 2.4 GHz band but only for indoor use. I know that I’ve read about Wi-Fi in India but I’m not quite clear on what has been allowed previously. Perhaps companies had to get certain permission to use the frequencies and now the spectrum is open to anyone.
Ofcom, the U.K. spectrum regulatory department, and ComReg, Ireland’s spectrum regulator, are both working on trying to make their use of spectrum more efficient. ComReg is in the process of developing its plan for 2005 through 2007 and has some very interesting ideas. ComReg figures that Ireland is in a unique position geographically and the regulator been working on ways to use that as an advantage. Because the population in the country is relatively spread out and because it is an island, Ireland has lots of unused spectrum, compared to many of its European neighbors. Because Ireland doesn’t share borders with other countries (except Northern Ireland), it doesn’t have to coordinate with neighbors to make sure it isn’t interfering.
ComReg has an interesting idea for exploiting its spectrum-rich position. This year, it hopes to introduce a new regulatory framework that would allow companies—Irish or otherwise—to use spectrum here for research and development purposes. ComReg would go so far as to allow companies to introduce trial services to real end users who could actually pay for the service as a way for companies to test technologies in a real world environment.
Many regulatory bodies, including the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, have some sort of mechanism for allowing companies to use spectrum for tests. However, my understanding is that at least in the United States it’s not easy to get that approval and there are a lot of limits on using the spectrum if you’re given approval. ComReg’s plan is to be a bit more liberal with doling out trial spectrum and to allow companies from outside Ireland to come here in order to conduct their trials.
ComReg is definitely mindful of international guidelines as set by the international spectrum bodies, so it is not going to allow anything that would be in blatant disregard for European guidelines. It is also mindful of not wanting to promote services in spectrum that might be available in Ireland but not elsewhere, noting that it’s not economical to consider encouraging companies to build systems that would only suit the Irish market.
I went to a half-day conference this week where ComReg discussed this and other ideas for changing its spectrum policy with members of the wireless community here in Ireland. I found the idea of opening up spectrum for trialers to be a great idea and one that could not only draw innovative companies to Ireland but could also foster some exciting new wireless services in the future. But no one else seemed to be too excited about the idea. Perhaps I’m missing something—maybe ComReg has talked about this before but hasn’t actually done it. Or maybe there’s another reason that I’m missing for why members of the local wireless community wouldn’t be excited about this idea.
There was some mention of opening up more license-free spectrum, but it doesn’t seem that ComReg has any exciting plans there.
Both Ofcom and ComReg are talking about allowing spectrum trading. Opening up a secondary market for spectrum seems to be a hot topic in Europe these days. At the ComReg conference, Vodafone Ireland’s CEO was quite supportive of the idea, but other audience members were concerned about the affects. There wasn’t much discussion of how ComReg might regulate spectrum trading. In the United States, the FCC has taken measures to try to prevent speculators from buying spectrum at auction and then sitting on it while the value skyrockets. That’s not a good way to distribute spectrum as it can result in valuable spectrum not being used. I hope that Ofcom and ComReg are both considering ways to avoid such speculation.