On May 24, 2010 it will be exactly 25 years since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the regulator of the radio spectrum for public use in the USA, released the decision to permit unlicensed access to the radio spectrum for communications, provided the devices use “Spread Spectrum”.
That regulatory decision paved the way for the IEEE 802.11 committee to start developing “Wi-Fi” – an interoperability standard for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) – which encouraged regulators in other countries to adopt similar rules. Canada and the European countries agreed first, then dozens more governments allowed license-free use of the radio spectrum by WLANs.
“Prior to the FCC decision, spectrum was released only in response to carefully documented ‘requirements’. This process was much slower than the rate of innovation in the IT community”. said Michael Marcus, the person behind the FCC decision. “The way industry and end-users embraced this new approach to spectrum regulation and the creativity it unleashed, surpassed our wildest dreams”, said Vic Hayes, the co-establisher and 10 year leader of the IEEE 802.11 working group, nicknamed “Father of Wi-Fi”.
Today Wi-Fi is built into all lap-top computers and it is becoming a “must have” feature in smart phones and consumer electronics generally. Internet access through Wi-Fi is now common at home, in offices, in hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, at airports, railway stations, on university campuses and even in airplanes and trains. Many communities use Wi-Fi for providing broadband internet access in areas where operators cannot or will not provide service. Wi-Fi is a major driver of ubiquitous connectivity. In 2008, the readers of Stuff magazine voted it the best technical innovation of the last decade.
Other license-exempt devices enabled by the FCC’s decision are Bluetooth and Zigbee. Bluetooth is a short range wireless standard to connect mobile phones to appliances such as headsets and computers, and Zigbee is a low power connectivity solution for wireless sensors, climate control systems, etc.
The Open Spectrum Alliance (OSA) promotes innovative public policies and the allocation of more unlicensed spectrum to realize the potential social and economic benefits of wireless media. Working with other stakeholders, particularly in Europe, we often cite Wi-Fi as an example of what license-free communications can deliver.
The Open Spectrum Alliance salutes all those who helped make Wi-Fi such an unprecedented and versatile success.
- For further info on the Silver Jubilee of Wi-Fi - and current issues of Open Spectrum reform - contact Open Spectrum Alliance members Robert Horvitz at bob [at] openspectrum.info (and see openspectrum.info) or Vic Hayes at v.hayes [at] hccnet.nl
More on Wi-Fi
- For more information on the background to Wi-Fi see the recent papers written by Michael Marcus and Vic Hayes/Wolter Lemstra, and we particularly recommend Michael Marcus’ history of civilian use of spread spectrum. The website of the Open Spectrum Alliance tracks today's agenda for Open Spectrum reform.