France may relax rules on wireless LANs

The French telecommunication regulator is examining ways to relax the rules governing wireless LANs, following a public consultation on use of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands.

The Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART) undertook Thursday to work with the armed forces, which still control much of the 2.4GHz frequency band, and the radio regulator, the Agence Nationale des Fréquences, to find a way to remove some of the regulations on use of these bands.

Although these bands are available for unlicensed use in many countries, France imposes more stringent regulations on transmissions at these frequencies than its neighbors. Among other restrictions, it requires that transmitters be limited to 10 milliwatts output power through most of the 2.4GHz band, that they be used indoors solely for local or independent networks, and that their transmissions not spill over into public spaces, ART noted in a report on the findings of the public consultation.

These restrictions, which were set out in an agreement between ART and the Ministry of Defense in January 2001, make it difficult for carriers to set up public Internet access networks using technologies such as IEEE 802.11b. Before that agreement was reached, each transmitter had to be individually registered and licensed. In 2004, however, a further relaxation of the rules is planned, allowing output powers of up to 100 milliwatts indoors and 10 milliwatts outdoors.

The 2.4GHz band is a shared resource, open to anyone prepared to stick to the guidelines set down by ART, and is commonly used by Bluetooth, Home RF, and WiFi (IEEE 802.11b) devices, and by France's armed forces. The 5GHz band will be used by IEEE 802.11a and Hiperlan 2 wireless networking systems.

ART received 73 responses from the public, split equally between the industry (network operators, equipment manufacturers, systems integrators and consultants) and users (individuals, associations, local authorities and companies).

Many of the respondents called for the right to use wireless LAN technology to offer Internet access in heavily trafficked areas such as stations, airports and hotels, ART said in a summary of the responses, with many calling also for the removal of transmission power restrictions both indoors and outdoors.

While mindful of operators' worries about competition with existing mobile communication technologies such as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and future technologies such as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), ART said it hoped that deregulation of WLAN use would stimulate the market for wireless local loop services. These are seen as a way of breaking France Télécom SA's stranglehold on the access networks needed to connect to telephone services or the Internet, but so far have seen little commercial success in France despite the granting of a number of licenses.

WLAN access technology is a natural complement to the wireless local loop, not a competitor, ART noted in the report.

While committing to examine the regulatory and technical implications of relaxing the regulations for these shared frequency bands, ART pointed out that nothing could happen without the consent of the armed forces, which are still heavy users of this part of the radio spectrum.

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