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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Google, Android and
47 CFR 2.944:

The Legacy of Myopic Rulemaking

This week Google announced Android and the Open Handset Alliance. Android is "a complete platform that will give mobile operators, handset manufacturers, and developers everything they need to build innovative devices, software and services." On November 6, 2007 Chairman Martin made the following statement:
I was pleased to hear the announcement by the Open Handset Alliance of the plans to introduce an open platform for mobile devices. As I noted when we adopted open network rules for our upcoming spectrum auction, I continue to believe that more openness—at the network, device, or application level—helps foster innovation and enhances consumers’ freedom and choice in purchasing wireless service.
So it looks like Android will have smooth sailing through FCC. But there is a problem there that got overlooked in everyone's enthusiasm: FCC has had 2 rulemakings on software defined radios (SDR) in recent years, Dockets 00-47 and 03-108. Both of these rulemakings dealt with a topic closely related to the Google announcement: how do you regulate transmitters that can change performance after approval with the addition of new software. Unfortunately, both rulemakings became "feel good" exercises to tell major industry forces FCC was supportive and both had decisions that were rushed to completion to "honor" the departing heads of OET. Not enough attention was paid to the long term implications of the specific rules that were adopted.

Let me make it clear, I think SDR is one of the greatest advancements in radio technology in recent history and along with its cousin, cognitive radio, has the promise to increase spectrum utilization and make new services available to the public. But if poorly regulated it could open Pandora's box to antisocial manufacturers who are not household names or members of major trade associations but are government by the same rules. Such manufacturers, often based in Asia, would love to get a competitive advantage on legitimate manufacturers by offering "features" such as increased power and more "frequency agility", e.g. use of improper bands such as public safety bands that have low average occupancy. In addition there is a growing interest in certain circles about selling various types of cellular jammers. CTIA is getting so annoyed about this that it have petitioned FCC for a declaratory ruling. While a "strict interpretation" of today's SDR rules would prevent the sale of transmitters that could be reprogrammed into being jammers, a "flexible" enough interpretation that is open enough to give Android a green light under existing rules probably facilitates new routes for legal sale of jammers even if CTIA gets the declaratory ruling it wants.

As a result of the 2 rulemakings SDRs are now defined in 47 CFR 2.1 as
A radio that includes a transmitter in which the operating parameters
of frequency range, modulation type or maximum output power
(either radiated or conducted), or the circumstances under
which the transmitter operates in accordance with Commission rules, can
be altered by making a change in software without making any changes to
hardware components that affect the radio frequency emissions
Then 47 CFR 2.944 gives these requirements
(a) Manufacturers must take steps to ensure that only software that has been approved with a software defined radio can be loaded into the radio. The software must not allow the user to operate the transmitter with operating frequencies, output power, modulation types or other radio frequency parameters outside those that were approved. Manufacturers may use means including, but not limited to the use of a private network that allows only authenticated users to download software, electronic signatures in software or coding in hardware that is decoded by software to verify that new software can be legally loaded into a device to meet these requirements and must describe the methods in their application for equipment authorization.

(b) Any radio in which the software is designed or expected to be modified by a party other than the manufacturer and would affect the operating parameters of frequency range, modulation type or maximum output power (either radiated or conducted), or the circumstances under which the transmitter operates in accordance with Commission rules, must comply with the requirements in paragraph (a) of this section and must be certified as a software defined radio.

(c) Applications for certification of software defined radios must include a high level operational description or flow diagram of the software that controls the radio frequency operating parameters.

Are any of these requirements in direct conflict with the Android "vision"? Probably not. But also sorts of understandings between the Android community and FCC will be needed, especially if Android becomes "open source". And since we are a "nation of laws, not a nation of men", these will then have to apply to all radio makers, not just the major firms with friends on the 8th floor. This is where there is a potential for chaos.

If I was back at FCC, I would start reviewing the SDR policy with respect to open source Android and try to come up with a supportive and clear policy structure that allows it but blocks sleazy manufacturers who seek to make antisocial transmitters capable of interfering with public safety and other key services.

If the Commission's Technological Advisory Council was really alive - not just a meaningless circular link on the FCC's cluttered home page - this would be a good task to give it. But the TAC seems to be on life support or dead since it hasn't met since 7/20/06 and its last scheduled meeting on 10/25/06 was mysteriously canceled 2 days before the meeting.

So I suspect that FCC will just give Google and Android a blank check to do whatever they want and will ignore the long term implications of the same rule interpretations in the hands of less ethical companies. But if FCC want to take the long term view, it should start thinking now about long term changes to the SDR rules that enable legitimate systems such as Android but block SDRs as a possible back door route to antisocial systems such as jammers.

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