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New UMTS Forum Report Surveys Global Spectrum Availability for WLANs

A new report from industry body The UMTS Forum provides an in-depth analysis of radio spectrum bands availability around the world for private and public WLANs (Wireless Local Area Networks).

Titled "WLAN Spectrum Report - after WRC-03", the new report (#32 from The UMTS Forum) assesses the availability of frequency bands at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz for the implementation of WLANs (Wireless Local Area Networks), and includes latest information following this summer's World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03) where global allocation of frequencies in the 5 GHz band for WLAN usage was decided. The report details designated frequency bands, their license exemption status and technical restrictions on the use of these frequencies for private and public WLAN usage in key European, American and Asian territories.

The full report is available exclusively to UMTS Forum members.
WLAN Spectrum Report - after WRC-03", UMTS Forum Report 32

Currently the most popular "flavour" of WLAN technology in Europe and the US, the IEEE 802.11b standard uses the non-licensed 2.4 GHz band whose usage is shared with ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) and other applications such as microwave ovens, remote controllers and alarm sensors as well as other short-range data transmisson technologies like Bluetooth. In contrast with UMTS and other mobile phone systems that exclusively use licensed radio spectrum, WLAN equipment can suffer from interference problems due to the large number of other users occupying the same 2.4 GHz band.

Provision of adequate spectrum is a key condition for market acceptance for WLAN systems. Recognising significant growth in demand for WLAN for public access and private use over the next few years, it is anticipated that an increasing number of WLAN operators will avoid using the 2.4 GHz band since overall quality of service cannot be guaranteed.

ETSI, ITU-R and CEPT have therefore calculated that the additional spectrum is required for WLANs to fulfil the expected future traffic demands. This has led to international and regional regulatory bodies allocating new spectrum from the 5 GHz frequency bands to WLAN type applications.

Prior to the 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03), sub-bands in the 5 GHz frequency range had already been designated in many countries for WLAN applications, but actual frequencies and restrictions on their use were different in European, American and Asia-Pacific countries.

WRC-03 agreed on a global mobile allocation of frequencies in the bands 5150 - 5350 MHz and 5470 - 5725 MHz (a total of 455 MHz) for the implementation of wireless access systems including RLANs.

In many parts of the world, WLAN deployment is "licence-exempt", meaning that equipment can be installed and used without requiring individual permission from an administration. For public access WLAN, the regulatory status is rapidly changing but, in many countries the deployment may be subject to a general authorization regime along with specific national restrictions.

WLAN and UMTS: complementary technologies

In previous reports* , The UMTS Forum has indicated that WLAN technology provides a complementary role to UMTS by offering low mobility or "nomadic" access to high speed wireless data services.

WLAN serves as a wire-free access to existing data networks with limited mobility around "hot spots", and uses license exempt radio spectrum that is shared with other applications and users. Actual data rates achievable with WLAN reduce as a user moves further away from an access point of "hot spot". Furthermore, performance depends on the number of users sharing a hotspot at once.

UMTS, in contrast, provides cost-effective, wide area network coverage for voice and data services using globally harmonised, licensed radio spectrum. Supporting a rich choice of services and applications optimised for fully mobile environments, UMTS also supports international roaming and offers integral security plus integrated charging and billing functions.

Recognising the complementary nature of the two technologies, The UMTS Forum has argued that Public WLAN service may be an important source of competitive differentiation for 3G operators.

*UMTS Forum Report #22 "Impact & Opportunity: Public Wireless LANs and 3G Business Revenues"