Point-to-point wireless links will get a big boost in December, when The Radiocommunications Agency is expected to approve the use of the 5GHz spectrum. The incumbent spectrum user of the contentious Band C, the Ministry of Defence, has been placated by a “soft licence” system, but the price of a few pounds a year will not deter users, say sources close to the process. 802.11a wireless LANs, which also use the 5GHz band will also get a boost, although, they are not expected to take off any time soon.

“At the last meeting, the RA suggested that Band C could be ratified during December,” said Paul Munnery, technical director of Wireless CNP, “I would expect that to be nearer the end of December. But the bones of the standard have been thoroughly thought out and we will see ratification.”

The Ministry of Defence has resisted opening up the spectrum, because it has radar systems operating in Band C of the 5GHz part of the spectrum. However, the frequency is used by the 802.11a wireless LAN – still scarcely present in Europe – and supports OFDM signalling which is ideal for longer-distance point-to-point links used for community broadband and linking branch offices (See our

Equipment for these links must have dynamic frequency selection so it can say “excuse me” and change frequency if it detects a radar sweep, and automatic power control, so transmitters only emit enough power to reach the receiver.

Meanwhile, 802.11a, operating under a 100mW power ceiling, is not subject to such strong regulations. No one in the UK is operating a public 802.11a hotspot (tell us if you know different) according to Warren Lewis, a spokesman for Buffalo Technology, partly because it requires a licence. However “a lot of people are doing it because nobody is being caught,” he went on.

Despite the slow start, Lewis reckons .11a is the future: “a is going to be fantastic,” he said. “It will wipe out b and g. But it is still twelve months from serious use in the UK.” He believes the RA has acceded to demands to free the band up partly because the arrival of dual band a/b/g access points and NIC cards has made it impossible to police: “The government has no choice but to pull it all away.”