Blog Post

New rules expand the universe of unlicensed spectrum

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Why not put wireless in everything?

Go ahead, add Wi-Fi to your toaster. Or Bluetooth to your shoes, because the FCC has relaxed some rules that make using unlicensed airwaves in the PCS band a little easier. And that means it could be cheaper for radio-makers to add that frequency band for our ever-growing parade of wireless gear.

Over at The CommLawBlog, published by DC law firm Fletcher Heald & Hildreth, a Wednesday post notes that the FCC has simplified rules governing how devices using the 1920 MHz-through-1930 MHz frequencies can behave:

Unlike some of the other unlicensed bands that house Wi-[Fi], Bluetooth, ZigBee, and thousands of consumer applications (our own favorite is a wireless diaper wetness sensor), the UPCS band is lightly populated, mostly with cordless phones. The FCC rules for the band include a complicated “spectrum etiquette” – a listen-before-talk scheme that minimizes the odds of one device stepping on another’s transmission. But the benefit comes with downsides: added equipment costs, and an upper limit on the number of devices that can successfully operate in a given environment.

The FCC’s new rules lower the costs of using that band, which means radio companies might cast their eye on it as other bands get too crowded, or they think up a good use case for devices that can take advantage of those frequencies. For example, since the band is already used by cordless phones, simplifying the rules might enable folks to use that band to operate a mess of cordless phones in a densely populated office environment, suggests the FCC.

Or it could be used for broadband data transmission, perhaps using a new standard or maybe by expanding the frequencies in which Wi-Fi or another existing standard operates. It’s a lower frequency than the 2.4 and 5GHz bands used for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and with more Wi-Fi radios tuning into 5 GHz there’s no worries of a Wi-Fi spectrum shortage just yet, so perhaps a new protocol and use case will emerge. Set your phasers to innovate and start playing.