Err, could you pause the wireless revolution please

News reaches us that the US military is, all of a sudden, worried about the use of wireless networking technologies, as they think it will interfere with their new passive radar systems.

This story has been widely misread or taken the wrong way, thinking it affects radar generally and all wireless networking. I don’t think it’s about the already widely used 802.11b/WiFi/2.4GHz, but the 802.11a equipment that operates in the 5GHz range.

In the UK the Radiocommunications Agency (RA) sets UK policy and issues licences for the non-military radio spectrum. UK people are currently free to use the 2.4GHz frequency (that 802.11b uses) without a licence but a £50/month licence is currently required for 5GHz equipment.

I called Annette Henley, who is responsible for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz at the RA to ask her what would be happening about the 5GHz range. She tells me it is hoped that the 5Ghz range will become unlicensed by the end of January 2003, but it will be with the restrictions that it is only for indoor use and only for the equipment set to its lowest power setting.

The completed paperwork has been passed to the Minister and just needs to complete the 21-day process of sitting in the House of Commons before coming into affect.

Interestingly much of the 802.11a equipment that is for sale in the UK currently does not conform to these requirements.

It appears that the US has actually got a bit caught out with this and are probably going to be following the UK’s lead and indeed there are moves afoot to create an International standard for this.

If the US military does genuinely have a problem with 5GHz equipment, I can’t believe that they announcing it – at all. I guess that all of the 11a equipment that does not comply with the forthcoming UK standards will have a willing customer base with anyone who doesn’t want US radar to function.