France, UK announce public-access WLAN plans

The French telecommunication regulator will allow the creation of public wireless LAN (WLAN) 'hot spots' in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands before the end of the year, it announced this week. Until now, rules in France have restricted use of WLAN technology to private networks,

          The French telecommunication regulator will allow the creation of public wireless LAN (WLAN) "hot spots" in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands before the end of the year, it announced this week.

          Until now, rules in France have restricted use of WLAN technology to private networks, but the Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART) plans to change these to allow companies, local governments and individuals to offer both indoor and outdoor coverage in public spaces with high traffic such as airports.

          On Monday, the UK Department of Trade and Industry announced a similar relaxation of rules, due to take effect on July 31.

          In France, ART will also introduce guidelines for the use of public WLANs as a means to provide broadband Internet access in areas where technologies such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable are impractical or unavailable, and expects the first experiments with this technology to begin this summer, according to Jean-François Hernandez, ART's communication manager.

          Before the French rules on use of WLANs for public networks can be relaxed, ART must present its proposals to a meeting of the Radiocommunication Consultative Commission later this week, Hernandez says. ART must also seek the opinion of the European Commission and of the 14 other member states of the European Union, a process which will take three months. The proposals are also subject to the approval of the Minister of Telecommunications.

          The French Ministry of Defense has also changed its restrictions on use of the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is used by the French armed forces. In most départements (administrative regions) of France, the Ministry of Defense limits WLANs transmitting in the band 2.4GHz to 2.4465GHz to 10 milliwatt output power indoors and 100 milliwatt outdoors, and from 2.4465GHz to 2.4835GHz to 100 milliwatt output power indoors and out, according to ART. The 10 milliwatt restriction limits the bandwidth available to indoor WLANs, where the higher power is needed to reach through internal walls and other obstacles.

          On Monday, the Ministry of Defence published a list of 39 départements where the restrictions are now 100 milliwatt output power throughout the whole 2.4GHz to 2.4835GHz band indoors, and 10 milliwatt outdoors, ART says. Further departments will be added to the list early next year, and all parts of France will be subject to the new regulations from 2004. ART is also pursuing discussions with the Ministry of Defense to raise the output power limit for outdoor use to 100 milliwatt, as in other countries in the European Union.

          Harmonisation of such regulations would permit equipment manufacturers to ship a single model to all European Union member states. Currently, WLAN equipment shipped in France must be specially configured to conform with the output power restrictions.

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