The UK and French authorities are relaxing their rules to encourage the growth of public wireless LAN (WLAN) networks.

Both governments will allow the creation of public wireless ‘hot spots’ in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. Apple’s AirPort exploits the 2.4GHz frequency.

In the UK, rules governing the use of these wavelengths are set to be relaxed from July 31.

French rules have restricted use of WLAN technology to private networks, but the Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART) plans to change them to allow companies, local governments, and individuals to offer both indoor and outdoor coverage in public spaces with busy traffic – such as airports.

In France, ART will also introduce guidelines for the use of public WLANs as a means to provide broadband Internet access in areas where technologies such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable are impractical or unavailable. It expects the first experiments with this technology to begin this summer.

The French rule-changes must first be ratified by that country’s Radiocommunication Consultative Commission, which meets later this week. ART must also seek the opinion of the European Commission and of the 14 other member-states of the European Union. This process will take three months. The proposals are also subject to the approval of the Minister of Telecommunications.

Output-power The French Ministry of Defence has changed its restrictions on the use of the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is used by the French armed forces. In most administrative regions of France, the Ministry of Defence limits WLANs transmitting in the band 2.4GHz to 2.4465GHz to 10-milliwatts output-power indoors, and 100-milliwatts outdoors. From 2.4465GHz to 2.4835GHz, power is limited to 100 milliwatts indoors and out, according to ART. The 10-milliwatt restriction limits the bandwidth available to indoor WLANs.

On Monday, the Ministry of Defense published a list of 39 regions where the restrictions are now 100 milliwatts output throughout the whole 2.4GHz to 2.4835GHz band indoors, and 10 milliwatts outdoors. All parts of France will be subject to the new regulations from 2004.

Harmonization of such regulations would permit equipment manufacturers, such as Apple, to ship a single model to all European Union member-states. Currently, such equipment must be specially configured to conform with French output-power restrictions.