Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wireless and the public spectrum

A colleague shared an article from NetworkWorld, discussing the implications of the FCC decision on Marriott hotel that says it's illegal to interfere with public airwaves.

It's important to understand the issues on both sides. In short, people want to be free to use the electronics devices they have. A popular mode is "MiFi," personal WiFi hotspots that allows your laptop or tablet to access the Internet through your phone's 3G or 4G network. On the other side, “Any devices brought by students will interfere as the spectrum is fully used by the school’s wireless,” according to Austin College network and operations manager Thomas Carter.

So you may ask, why is MiFi a problem? As the article explains: mobile titans like Verizon and AT&T pepper the landscape with Mi-Fi devices, and get steamed when students bring classroom Wi-Fi to its knees with iPhone personal hotspots all on channel 2 at power well beyond what our own APs put out.

In other words, these MiFi devices are all communicating on the same wireless channel, which interferes with other devices on the same channel—including university access points.

The article quotes Pete Hoffswell, network engineer at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, in reminding us, “That’s an open, public spectrum that’s available to anybody.” According to Hoffswell, network administrators will just have to grin and bear it, where this type of interference is concerned. WiFi is a public airspace, and universities will need to be careful not to tread the line, as Mariott did. Mariott addressed the wireless congestion by sending de-AUTH packets, effectively "jamming" the MiFi devices until guests abandoned MiFi in favor of the hotel's controlled wireless network.

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