Q: What happens when wireless networks become pervasive to the point where there is so much interference that networks crowd each other? Is there an authority that arbitrates/mediates or will help resolve these conflicts in the future?
- Jeffrey, San Francisco.

The Wizards gaze deeply into their crystal ball and respond:

Marcel Wiget, Chantry Networks
Yes: The FCC (In the UK, Ofcom - Editor) has exclusive authority to resolve matters involving radio frequency interference [RFI] when unlicensed devices are being used, regardless of venue. There is a recent public notice, issued by the FCC on June 24, which addresses this exact problem as a result of a dispute on RF authority at airports between the landlords and airlines. The official notice can be found here.

(This may not be very reassuring, as the FCC ruling simply states that landlords such as airports do not have power to deny their leasehold tenants the right to use Wi-Fi. Both FCC and Ofcom are pretty stretched so, even though the regulator has the final say, the likelihood of intervention is small. In most cases, users will have to sort out disputes amongst themselves - Editor )

Paul Callahan, Propagate Networks
Wireless networks in the unregulated spectrum like Wi-Fi are by definition unregulated. This means that Wi-Fi has no central authority and cannot arbitrate between networks that are beginning to crowd each other. This is already happening in airports, crowded apartment buildings, and dense neighborhoods. The only answer is to make the Wi-Fi software and chips smart, or cognitive. If they are intelligent enough, the future generation of Wi-Fi cordless phones, TVs, media-players, and consumer and enterprise access points, will be able to automatically choose non-interfering channels and reduce their transmit power to avoid interference.

In the future, it may be that regulatory agencies (like the FCC) will begin to encourage cognitive or smart radios to solve this problem. The economics of this kind of solution are clear. Regulating situations or disputes one at a time would be extremely costly and unworkable for government agencies. Rather, regulatory agencies may choose to provide incentives for vendors to provide cognitive radio and firmware solutions.