Uncommon Wisdom

Jan 13 2010   5:14PM GMT

Spectrum-use questions surround new magicJack femtocell home system

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

VoIP provider magicJack, whose commercials have oversaturated the screens of so many users, unveiled a femtocell home system that would let customers make wireless calls from their homes using their own cell phones and their home broadband connections. The application raises major questions regarding the spectrum, since the phones work only with their providers’ own frequencies and the MagicJack femtocell must therefore use licensed spectrum.

There has been a Federal Communications Commission-sanctioned “low-power” doctrine that said that 50-milliwatt power levels could be used anywhere without license restrictions; this is sometimes used to make AM or FM radio broadcasts within small areas, and even to link hands-free cell phones to car radios. Whether it could be applied to cellular spectrum is unclear, and it may be tested in court. If the FCC affirms the application, it could open the door to all manner of “third-party femtocell” applications, not to mention a risk of having calls hijacked by bandit femtocells.

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