GENEVA, Switzerland, July 8, 2003 — The 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03) finished its nearly month-long session in Geneva, Switzerland on July 4, and took an enormous step forward in promoting unlicensed wireless broadband data services, such as Wi-Fi. At this year’s WRC, the delegates harmonized pre-existing, regional allocations of unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band, and in the process created a greatly expanded, global allocation of 455 MHz of spectrum for use by unlicensed wireless networking devices.
Pierre De Vries, chief of Technology Incubation for Microsoft.
This decision should significantly broaden the opportunities for people to access information using unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi wireless LANs. It is also likely to enable faster deployment of wireless data services in locations where dial-up access is not practical.
The World Radiocommunication Conference meets every two to four years, under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union, to establish world-wide spectrum allocations. The WRC’s recent vote was the culmination of a cooperative effort between U.S. government officials and more than 2,500 delegates from countries around the world. Representatives from companies such as Microsoft, Intel, HP and Cisco worked very closely with U.S. officials in the months leading up to the WRC to create a framework for spectrum allocation that met the concerns of incumbent users, reflected global considerations, and enabled a global market for unlicensed broadband equipment.
In Geneva, the U.S. delegation worked with other governments to finalize the recommendation and secure the approval of the WRC attendees. The responsibility now falls to national delegates to return to their countries and promulgate regulations that implement the plenary decisions made at the WRC.
In the case of the radio spectrum and the U.S., Microsoft and its technology-industry partners will support the Federal Communications Commission as it codifies the WRC decisions and allocates the radio spectrum in the United States. As this process is mirrored around the world, it will help make possible consistent, worldwide availability of unlicensed radio spectrum that will enable people worldwide to access the Internet, and to communicate locally and globally.
PressPass spoke with Pierre De Vries , chief of Technology Incubation for Microsoft, who predicts the WRC decision will accelerate Wi-Fi as a new broadband platform in homes, businesses and schools, in developing as well as in developed nations. The result will be “a rapid deployment of innovative wireless data and services for business, personal and educational applications.”
PressPass: What will be the impact of the WRC decision?
De Vries: Microsoft believes this will accelerate the deployment of wireless data networks and services in all kinds of settings. While the WRC agreement specifies that the predominant focus of this spectrum will be for indoor use, the potential range of application is very broad. Many markets are emerging for Wi-Fi, including home networking, public hot spots, college campuses, office settings, and rural and suburban communities. Consumers can create a wireless network in their homes simply by purchasing a base station and interface cards from any major technology retail outlet. Businesses have found that wireless LAN connectivity substantially increases their workers’ productivity. And we’ve all seen the newspaper stories about the continuing growth of “hot spots” in public places. Wi-Fi is clearly a giving a great boost to increasing the reach and impact of the Internet on people’s business and personal lives.
PressPass: Do you expect this decision to benefit developing nations as well?
De Vries: Certainly. Unlicensed wireless technology can help developing countries implement Internet networks very quickly, and that has significant implications for accelerating the growth of information systems in those nations. We are also seeing rural and suburban applications in developed nations taking advantage of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is a technology with broad potential around the world, and we think the WRC agreement underscores that.
PressPass: Why did the U.S. government and technology companies come together on this issue?
De Vries: Everybody had a clear sense from the start that allocating spectrum to unlicensed wireless connectivity would have a very positive impact on accelerating the delivery of broadband networks and data worldwide. This was a goal that both government bodies and the private sector felt was worth achieving, and one that we all worked together on.
PressPass: Is the WRC decision binding?
De Vries: Yes, in the sense that any spectrum used consistent with this new primary allocation receives worldwide interference protection. And equally important, the WRC decision is a strong signal to governments globally that they ought to implement this decision on a national level — and we believe that most of them will.
PressPass: What kinds of services do you envision being enabled by this approach?
De Vries: The range of Wi-Fi usage is incredibly broad. In some rural and suburban communities, small wireless Internet service providers are already setting up antennas on grain elevators, towers or buildings to areas otherwise lacking broadband. In some cases, they are able to send signals 15 miles. College campuses are using wireless LANs to give students network access wherever they are, and companies are doing the same for their employees. Entrepreneurs are setting up hotspots for wireless Web access to attract customers, and technologists are creating neighborhood networks to provide free Web access to local residents. The list goes on and on. Allocating unlicensed spectrum enables such innovation, which is a huge spur to the development of wireless information services tailored to the needs of users in developed and developing countries.
PressPass: But, in the developing world, isn’t the cost of devices and wireless data services still a consideration?
De Vries: It certainly is. Infrastructure remains a challenge for many areas in the world. No one is saying this will result in millions of Web-enabled devices being deployed in the developing world overnight. But by allocating spectrum in this fashion, the WRC has given governments and the technology industry a clear path to growing communication, connectivity and commerce around the globe. Having everyone moving along a common path is a major step forward.
PressPass: What was the role of Microsoft, H-P, Intel and Cisco in the WRC decision?
De Vries: We all worked very closely with government officials and WRC attendees. This was clearly a case where the industry as a whole benefited from a broad policy decision, and where everyone concerned realized that there was a greater benefit that could be delivered by working cooperatively on this.
PressPass: What are the next steps in this process?
De Vries: Each government that participated in the WRC will now go back and work through its regulatory agencies to codify the decisions made at the WRC. This particular decision was one of many decisions, so all of the delegates will have lots of ground to cover with their respective agencies. We’re ready to work with the other industry leaders and with the FCC to make the WRC decision a reality for the U.S.
PressPass: Will Microsoft be working with government bodies in countries other than the U.S., as well as with the FCC?
De Vries: Each government has to deal with the issue independently. We believe the WRC decision speaks volumes about the need for a worldwide capability for unlicensed spectrum, and we believe that all the various international regulatory bodies will feel the same way. It truly is a win-win on a worldwide basis for service providers, hardware and software companies, and most importantly, for customers.