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Working Paper

Unlicensed and Unshackled: A Joint OSP-OET White Paper On Unlicensed Devices and Their Regulatory Issues

Kenneth Carter, Ahmed Lahjouji, and Neal McNeil

OSP Working Paper 39 (May 2003) presents a survey of the origins of unlicensed wireless devices, their governing regulation, and the current technological state of the art.  It also gives an overview of the market with information from publicly available sources, and an analysis of the potential regulatory issues. Unlicensed wireless devices are permitted to emit radio frequency energy, without specific authorization, registration, or grant of a license. Today, millions of unlicensed devices are already in operation in a multitude of important uses for industry, medicine, government, national defense, and in the homes.

The market for unlicensed wireless communications devices is experiencing unprecedented growth into a multi-billion dollar industry – quite striking in light of the severe downturn in the U.S. telecommunications and technology sectors. Unlicensed devices advance the public interest, necessity, and convenience for the American people by enabling applications not possible with wires or that do not require the acquisition of spectrum rights through the licensing process.

However, without a forward-looking approach to policy reform addressing the fundamental problem of interference and maintaining these low entry barriers to spectrum, much of the benefit and promise of unlicensed devices may be delayed, or unrealized. The authors conclude that the effective policy reform includes enabling more unlicensed spectrum and promulgating rules to encourage technological and market-based solutions to optimize efficient use and sharing of spectrum.

Issued: May 2003

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