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Consumer gizmos might get the same kind of regulatory attention as radio transmitters

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Bandwidth hog?

“There is no spectrum shortage, what we have is a spectrum utilisation problem”, said Austin Schlick, director of communications law at Google. Several solutions were offered as technology executives and policy makers talked about “slicing the nation’s airwaves” at CES this afternoon.

One suggestion that would have a major impact on consumer electronics companies, not to mention consumers, is to start regulating wireless receivers in something like the same way that the FCC regulates transmitters. Packing radio bandwidth with more and more data has to be done in a way that doesn’t create interference between users.

“We have not dealt with receivers as an entity” within the regulatory system, said Karl Nebbia, the head of spectrum management at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“Receiver performance does matter”, agreed David Redl, a telecoms staffer for the house of representatives. He thinks it’s a problem that needs to get more attention in Washington.

Shortcomings in receiver design were a dramatic deal breaker when LightSquared tried to build a terrestrial 4G network using a band next to the frequencies used by GPS satellites. First, the FCC okayed the plan and then reversed itself after studies showed that many commercially available GPS receivers weren’t capable of filtering out LightSquared’s transmissions.

It’s an important consideration for consumer electronics products. There’s a plan going forward to more densely pack stations into television channels and free up spectrum for mobile broadband. There are other proposals to have different types of users, including consumers, share common frequencies. Digital technology makes it possible, but both receivers and transmitters have to be well engineered in order to obtain the maximum benefit and continue to meet the exploding demand for mobile bandwidth.