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Unlicensed and unplugged

Posted: 07 Feb 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless design? unlicensed band? wireless lan? wlan? atheros communications?

Beneath all the aspects of wireless design in which Teresa Meng has been immersed lies one unshakable beliefunlicensed bands are the great equalizer. This idea is partly what drove Meng to explore WLANs and to establish Atheros Communications. It's also why the Stanford professor continues to slay sacred cows, dismissing as myths the notion of a spectrum shortage and the idea that third-generation (3G) cellular technology can enable high-speed data connectivity. Borrowing a quote from FCC chairman Michael Powell, Meng calls on unlicensed bands to "free us from the shackles' imposed by our lack of understanding of wireless communications."

Advanced wireless signal processing and other technology now manage interference in the unlicensed bands, improve signal-to-noise ratios and lower costs. "Any regulated system can't keep up with technology," Meng said, referring to licensed bands. "As a result, they're always more expensive."

Moreover, recent FCC initiatives greatly enhance the spectrum efficiency and potential of unlicensed-band air interfaces. "The notion that we're spectrum-limited is simply not true," Meng said. "We're still at 2.4GHz with 85MHzwe haven't even started in the 5GHz band, and beyond that there's the 60GHz band as well as ultrawideband." Meng also pointed to an FCC initiative for sharing licensed TV spectrum.

Yet, even though ample spectrum may be available, Meng expects "it will take many years for companies, carriers and the general public to realize they can actually enjoy a lot more connectivity than they have today."

She recognizes too that cellular operators have hundreds of billions invested in their networks. Thus, "3G will happen because of the forces behind it and because carriers will definitely accrue more money through more voice capacity," she said. "But to say 3G is a data communication scheme is an overstatement that is more like marketing spin."

Meng believes the costs of true data communications will be too high for consumers to swallow; instead, she advocates a hybrid approach that combines cellular voice and unlicensed data. Operators, she said, already realized that unlicensed spectrum is cheap and are beginning to take advantage of it through partnerships with Wi-Fi hotspot providers.

"If the carriers are willing to deploy the proper technology, I think they are the winners in this wireless industry," she said. "They have the infrastructure just sitting there, and they can collect money just by throwing an access point on the tower, which costs them nothing." Equipped with multiple-input, multiple-output capability, high-speed data connections can be achieved over multiple miles without mesh networking, Meng believes. "Meshing isn't needed; that's a niche market," she said.

- Patrick Mannion

EE Times

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