2004-08-29 21:24 - Tech
In the United States, the FCC controls many things. One of them is wireless spectrum. This is an important thing. The FCC's control means that a particular TV station, for example, can be granted use of a particular part of the wireless spectrum, and no one else can (legally) interfere. Radio and TV might never have worked without it.
Problem is, the FCC is rather old, and so are it's rules. There's massive sections of the usable spectrum now devoted to radio and TV, and we can't do much about it. Many more pieces of the usable spectrum are licensed off to other particular uses. Which brings up another issue. For the FCC to give you permission to use part of the spectrum, you have to license it. In other words, you have to pay, usually heavily.
The solution to this is "unlicensed" spectrum. There's parts of the wireless spectrum that any manufacturer, company, individual, anyone, is allowed to use for any reason, within certain limitations like transmission power. This means cheap electronics, like cordless phones, can exist. With heavy licensing fees, manufacturers wouldn't be able to make them for nearly the low cost they do now.
Big problem, though. Every manufacturer uses those frequencies. Except the biggest things, like cell phones, every consumer device using wireless technology conflicts with the others. This means that we have situations like your computer network dying each time the phone rings. Your phone conversation getting cut off every time someone uses the microwave down the hall. (Microwaves just happen to pump out massive interference within the most common unlicensed frequency range.)
This is one of the big things in the technology area that really needs to change for progress to be possible. Patents are another thing that have fallen way behind the times.