A friend of mine recently (and gleefully) related the following story to me: Frustrated by the lack of response from the IT department in getting wireless access to the network (security issues, blah blah blah), he and other engineers at the company hacked into the corporate system and created their own Wi-Fi access points.
Upon discovery of the interlopers' handiwork, the IT department threatened to cut off the entire engineering department's access (wired and unwired) to the network.
Fortunately, logic and intervention by senior management prevailed. The IT department was forced to not only back down on its ridiculous threat, but also created—posthaste—the wireless access that the engineering department had been lobbying for.
I love stories like this, which are entertaining in the way that they showcase pure engineering ingenuity. Plus, it's always great to see jerks get their comeuppance. But there's also an important question here about who really oversees the wireless spectrum, and how well they're doing it.
The issue came up in early September, when CNET reported that students living on campus at the University of Texas in Dallas were barred by the school's administration from running certain kinds of Wi-Fi networks—namely 802.11g or 802.11b (http://rbi.ims.ca/3860-508). They were welcome, however, to use the less-interference-prone 5-GHz, 802.11a standard, which was deemed nonthreatening to the school's own wireless network. (See more on this standard at http://rbi.ims.ca/3860-509.)
Students responded by claiming that only the FCC had jurisdiction over their use of the wireless spectrum. A week later, CNET published a follow-up story with this headline: "College Backs Off Wi-Fi Ban" (http://rbi.ims.ca/3860-510). The article quoted a spokesperson for the school who explained that the school lifted the policy because "it was not clear that the university had the legal right to enforce the policy."
It may be true that the FCC is the only organization who can legally oversee use of the wireless spectrum, but how well is it doing? Critics contend that its nearly 80-year-old regulatory policies are in desperate need of updating—particularly given the proliferation of wireless technologies and services today. Under attack in particular is the FCC's practice of auctioning off snippets of the spectrum and restricting their use.
Advocates of a change in policy argue for a "more flexible and market-oriented spectrum," which they say would be more in tune with developing wireless communications technologies and bring about performance improvements.
I hope the FCC overhauls its policies. But it's also clear that when it comes to wireless, the market is proving it's prepared to take matters into its own hands. And that's going to be mighty hard to control.