Back in October, we mentioned that Apple was talking to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) about opening up part of the radio spectrum and creating a new class of data communications,. Data Personal Communications Services, as Apple calls it. Apple recently filed the petition and called for computer communications to have about 40 MHz of bandwidth between 1850-1990 MHz. Apple wants that space for transmitting data at high speeds over short distances (the petition mentioned 10 megabits per second and 150 feet).
Apple understands that the radio spectrum doesn’t have that much free space (the frequency requested by the petition requires current users to relocate), which is why the petition comes now, before Apple or any other company has announced a product that might use this frequency. Motorola’s WIN (Wireless Inbuilding Network) is scheduled to ship February 11 at NetWorld in Boston, but it will use much higher frequencies, offer much greater speeds, and require an FCC license. In comparison, if the FCC approves Apple’s petition, anyone will be able to manufacture and use wireless networking products in the proposed frequency without a license.
Apple’s scheme could make wireless networking attractive for office buildings, and huge amounts of money previously spent on wiring could be saved. Individuals and entire offices will be able to move with a minimum of disruption in network services. This is not to say that no potential problems exist. People on Usenet are already debating security issues, since you can’t control where radio network waves go, and they would probably make it outside of your building at times (putting lead shielding on all the outside walls is not a good solution!). Some have suggested that automatic encryption would be easy to implement and difficult to break. In addition, others mentioned that it is trivial for technologically-inclined no-goods to tap an Ethernet line and snag packets. Decoding them would be difficult, but definitely within the realm of possibility. It even may be possible to decode the electromagnetic field given off by the cabling, though that would require a sophisticated effort. The moral of the story is that nothing is completely secure without seriously expensive real-time encryptors and decryptors on either end of the network transmissions. It’s like locking a bicycle. Anyone with the right tools and enough time can steal any bicycle, no matter how well locked up. Your task as the owner is to choose a comfortable level of protection, that is, the type of lock that deters the majority of thieves and does not unreasonably slow you down when unlock it.
I see the transmission distance of Apple’s scheme as a potentially serious disadvantage. While 150 feet is a decent distance for a network within a building, it doesn’t do much for multiple buildings in the same city. What I’d like implemented (and my knowledge of radio technology is too limited to completely understand the requirements and ramifications of this idea) is a wide range transmitter that could serve as a bridge between all the little radio networks that will spring up like mushrooms after a rain. For instance, I have a number of friends in the area with whom I exchange email by having my QuickMail server automatically call their servers in the middle of the night. It certainly works, but has proved to be a tad too slow at times. While having my own radio network would be nice (I’d have to get another Mac since a network with a single Mac and a laser printer isn’t exciting), I’d far rather be able to have a community-wide network that would link all the computers users who I know, including a link to Cornell’s Internet site. Since none of my friends are more than five miles away, I wouldn’t need much in the way of distance, though distances of up to 25 miles would be ideal for larger cities.
Apple has said that it would like it if people favoring its petition would share their feelings with the FCC, but I haven’t found any appropriate addresses or phone numbers to use. In lieu of specific contact information, should you be a U.S.. citizen, I suggest contacting an appropriate elected representative and sharing your opinion. After all, it’s your representative’s job to listen to you and to act as your voice in government. Hey, it’s worth a try anyway.
Chris Silverberg — [email protected]
Jack Brindle — [email protected]
Cinderella Man — [email protected]
Michael Kerner — [email protected]
Don Gillies — [email protected]
Bernie Bernstein — [email protected]
MacWEEK — 05-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #5, pg. 17
InfoWorld — 04-Feb-91, Vol. 13, #5, pg. 1
Communications Week — 04-Feb-91, pg 6