FCC expands wireless network capability

Consumers could see the development of more high-speed devices that connect computers, phones, and other electronics without wires under federal action taken Aug. 31.

The decision by the Federal Communications Commission expands the ability of systems designed primarily for wireless networking inside a home or building. Such devices might use the airwaves to connect several computers to a single printer or to download CD-quality audio and video streams from a personal computer to portable electronic devices.

The FCC increased the amount of bandwidth available to wireless systems that have the ability to shift between frequencies to avoid interference.

Regulators and industry officials said the action makes it possible for those systems to carry more data at higher speeds within the home or small office. For example, a consumer could wirelessly connect a laptop to a super-fast internet modem on the other side of the room.

The commission was petitioned by an industry coalition, the HomeRF Working Group, whose member companies are developers of wireless networking systems.

Industry officials cited the possibilities for integrating cordless voice handsets, handheld computers, and other devices throughout the home, office, or classroom.

These systems “combine all those things for people who don’t know anything about networking. For existing wired systems, this is very hard to do,” said Kurt Bauer, vice president of marketing and general manager for Proxim Inc., which builds wire-free networking solutions and is a member of the working group.

“We believe these data rates will open up a new class of audio products, including wireless surround speakers, high-quality networked digital jukeboxes, and internet radios,” said Bob Brummer, director of technology strategy at Dolby Laboratories, another group member.

Regulators said the change would benefit small businesses and schools looking for cost-effective ways to network their offices or classrooms. The change also would benefit small manufacturers, enabling them to distribute more diverse products, said FCC Chairman William Kennard.