Harmful interference from WLAN devices

(Last Updated On: November 25, 2006)

Harmful Interference

Thanksgiving is a big holiday here in the United States so I have been offline for a time catching up and traveling. Whilst I was at my in-laws place, where my husband fixed a new WLAN solution, we found access to be sporadic and unstable. After some trouble shooting, we found that the cordless phone system used in the house was affecting the base station. At my home, when I use the microwave oven it interferes with my cordless phone system. So this led me to think about unlicensed spectrum, and whether not monitoring quality of service and harmful interference is indeed a good thing.

Proponents of regulation call for licensing for these reasons and to ensure protection over the investments in the network, but the test in the pudding. Proponents of “let the market decide” would say that many users are willing to put up with this inconvenience and what they are willing to pay for. Much to be said about both arguments and it will be interesting to see how the debate pans out. Meanwhile, many more countries are joining the unlicensed spectrum bandwagon, which also has its points to encourage non-monopoly players to get into the game and offer access where non exists- i.e. bridging the digital divide. “Flexible” regulation is a term being used to ensure “old” regulations are not used inflexibly for newer ones..Will regulators only look at harmful interference from unlicensed providers to licensed providers, or within unlicensed providers?
In February 2001, the FCC did ask a national wireless ISP to shut down its service for causing harmful interference with a licensed operator of an amateur TV station.

The main problem with that approach will be more to do with enforcement as would my mother in law using a high power WLAN equipment, now be considered an operator or service provider in the unlicensed band. Given she uses it at home and turns it on and off as she uses it, how would a regulator track down these devices. What about campus networks and professors who turn on base stations for work purposes. Will they not be able to take advantage of this new technologies. Today, users even expect hotels to be service providers as access to Wi-fi is commodotised. The FCC has had the foresight to predict this potential conflict and has designated 5Ghz band for public and community use. But as can be seen in this Malaysian government document, that alone does not eliminate the problem, especially as devices get more powerful.

(footnote: No. S1.166 of the Radio Regulations provides the following definition of the term “interference”:
“Interference: The effect of unwanted energy due to one or a combination of emissions, radiations, or inductions upon reception in a radiocommunication system, manifested by any performance degradation, misinterpretation, or loss of information which could be extracted in the absence of such unwanted energy.”

Among the measures foreseen by the ITU Constitution in the execution of the instruments of the Union No. 37 (Article 6) provides that:
“The Member States are bound to abide by the provisions of this Constitution, the Convention and the Administrative Regulations in all telecommunication offices and stations established or operated by them which engage in international services or which are capable of causing harmful interference to the radio services of other countries, except in regard to services exempt”)