As the International Telecommunication Union's World Radiocommunications Conference 2003 (WRC-03) finishes up its next-to-last week of a month-long session, delegates have reached an agreement that will add 455 MHz of new spectrum in the 5-GHz band for wireless LANs on a global basis with few restrictions.

The agreement reached at the conference in Geneva resolved a sticking point between the European Union and the U.S. over outdoor use of the 5-GHz Wi-Fi band. John Giusti, deputy division chief in the Strategic Analysis and Negotiations Division of the Federal Communications division of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, said it was resolved by allowing member ITU states to choose whether they want to restrict the 5250-to-5350-MHz portion of the band to indoor use only.

A statement from the U.S. delegation said the agreement permits outdoor operation of WLANs in the 5250-to-5350-MHz band, while "requesting" that countries take "appropriate measures" that will result in a "predominant number of stations" being operated indoors."

Giusti, who briefed reporters in a teleconference, said this "flexible" approach would satisfy the EU, which wants to restrict outdoor use to protect Earth-sensing satellite systems, which also operate in the 5250-to-5350-MHz portion of the band. Outdoor use of that portion of the band is now permitted in the U.S. He noted that the agreement also protects U.S. Defense Department radar that operates in the 5-GHz band from interference.

Wireless LAN chip makers and hardware manufacturers said the agreements could boost the wireless industry by providing a globally coordinated set of frequencies in the 5-GHz WLAN band for use by devices using the industry-standard 802.11a protocol.

"The WRC decision is a key milestone on the path to global wireless networking," said Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of marketing for WLAN at Broadcom Corp., an Irvine, Calif.-based chip manufacturer. "It will ultimately allow our dual-band 802.11a/g solutions the same extensive country coverage and success we've experienced with our single-band 54g solutions."

An international agreement on the outdoor use of the entire 455 MHz allocated for the 5-GHz WLAN band will also help developing nations use wireless technologies to leapfrog the digital divide, according to Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing at Vivato Inc., a WLAN hardware manufacturer. Vivato uses planar phased array antennas to boost wireless coverage to four miles rather than the hundreds of feet of coverage provided by standard WLANs.

Belanger, interviewed yesterday at the Wireless Internet Opportunity for Developing Nations conference at UN headquarters, said that by endorsing outdoor use of the 5-GHz WLAN band, the ITU has provided developing nations with "a cheap way to deliver broadband."