Audio News for November 1, 2005

by | Nov 1, 2005 | Audio News | 0 comments

Wi-Fi Chaos Approaching? – You’ve probably been seeing the
publicity about various cities around the U.S. setting up citywide
Wi-Fi networks and wide-area broadband wireless systems such as
WiMAX.  Philadelphia is the first, with Portland, San Francisco,
even small Lafayette, LA coming up fast. The plan is that the service
will be very low cost or free, benefitting lower-income people who
cannot think of affording a DSL or cable connection, as well as
offering efficient wireless connections for all sorts of city and
country services, such as sending in reports on parking meters and even
vital emergency services.  Of course in some cities ordinances
have already been passed, fueled by lobbyists from the big telecom
companies, to prohibit cities from installing such low-cost wireless
systems. This part of the Wi-Fi story is the old public-vs.-private
hassle which is not new in American history. Moving data along
broadband routes is this century’s equivalent of 19th century
structures such as railroads and canals – started privately but later
taken over by the government. Yet the venerable P.O., which started as
a big federal bureaucracy, is now facing stiff competition from the
private delivery services.

But there’s another aspect of proliferating Wi-Fi that could impact AV
aficionados even more. Interference – and it can go both directions.
The portion of the spectrum around 2.4GHz is used by Wi-Fi, but also by
a host of other unlicensed electronic devices – including wireless
headphones, wireless loudspeakers, cordless phones, garage door openers
– you name it.(There are also two other similar bands: 5.8 GHz and 900
MHz.) Without FCC regulation (is the FCC regulating any part of the
spectrum anymore?) the Wi-Fi band is approaching the same unlicensed
and uncontrolled mess as the CB Radio band. More and more “nodes” are
going in closer and closer together, some with increased power in order
to overcome some of the difficulty in maintaining a good connection.
The more “hotspots” that are installed, the more troublesome
interference is expected to become. I’ve noticed  that my wireless
standard phone now gets very noisy only a few yards away from its base
whereas I used to be able to walk out of the house with it. And my
Airport base station (Apple’s version of Wi-Fi) which used to allow me
to connect with my iBook while on my deck, now only connects properly
in the same room with the base station. When I turn off the base
station completely, there is still a high reading on the signal
strength meter of the laptop!

The FCC and Congress are looking into new frequency bands for expanded
Wi-Fi uses. They are in the present VHF and UHF TV broadcast bands plus
the 3650-3700 MHz band. The idea is that unlicensed devices may be able
to operate in vacant channels not being used by high-power TV stations,
provided they comply with limits on power, location and operating
frequency.  After 2009, when all the analog TV spectrum is
returned to the government, there will be many additional channels
available for such uses. But that’s in the future and for now about the
only solutions to interference are more powerful transmitters (such as
Apple’s recent Airport Extreme models) and equipment with frequency
agility – able to select different channels which might be more free of
interference.

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