Lost in the controversy over media ownership, the FCC filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on June 5, 2003, to change the operating rules for 5 GHz wireless “Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure” (U-NII) devices.

Responding to a petition filed by the Wi-Fi Alliance in January 2000, the amendment to parts 2 and 15 of the rules would add an additional 255 MHz of spectrum in the 5.47-5.725 GHz band.

The action will add a whopping 80 percent increase in spectrum to the U-NII category and align use of the spectrum with 5 GHz wireless use around the globe, providing a boon for high-speed wireless connectivity.

Currently, equipment manufacturers have separate products for the United States and overseas markets.

In addition, the rule would allow the United States Federal Government to lay claim as primary user in the 5.45-5.65 GHz band, as well as modifications to the technical requirements of U-NII devices to prevent interference with other types of radio services.

The changes have been introduced in response to potential interference issues with U.S.-operated military radar systems.

NASA is also laying claim to pieces of the affected spectrum to support satellite programs.

Weather radar stations also use some of the affected spectrum.

To avoid interference, the proposed change to U-NII devices using spectrum in the 5.250-5.350 GHz and 5.470-5.750 GHz bands would require them to employ dynamic frequency selection (DFS), a listen-before-transmit technique. Prior to starting transmission, the device would monitor the radio environment for a radar's presence.

If the U-NII device finds an operating radar, it would either move to another channel or go into sleep mode if no channels are available.

Devices would be required to constantly monitor the radio environment prior to and during operation to avoid interference with Department of Defense radar systems.

It remains to be seen how the European community will react to the proposed changes.

The World Telecommunications Conference 2003 in Geneva Switzerland is to review the proposed frequency allocation and ownership, but an initial outline of changes made earlier in the year did not go over well.

Ultimately, equipment manufactures may adapt the U.S. standards by default in order to insure easy access into the American consumer market and gain economies of scale in production of 5 GHz for a world market.

FCC Commissioners were unanimous in supporting the proposed rule changes, lauding it for harmonizing the use of 5 GHz spectrum both in the United States and abroad, as well as moving the market to a “new era of unlicensed wireless innovation,” according to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Comments about the proposed rule should be submitted by early October with responses due in late November.

Congress will be pleased as well, having taken action earlier in the year to goad the FCC into moving forward on 5 GHz spectrum.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and George Allen, R-Va., introduced the “Jumpstart Broadband Act” in January 2003 to add more spectrum in the 5 GHz range, touting the move as a way to facilitate broadband access in both urban and rural areas.

Short-range 802.11a Wi-Fi devices using the existing U.S. 5 GHz allocation are capable of delivering data at speeds of up to 54 Mbps using the 802.11a standard, with proprietary schemes able to boost throughput to over 100 Mbps and faster.

Consumer electronics equipment manufacturers are looking towards 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices to provide high-speed wireless bandwidth for such applications as streaming media between home devices.