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Now Cantennas Are Illegal Too? Why Don't They Just Outlaw WiFi?

from the says-who-exactly? dept

Is it really so much to ask to have people who are making and enforcing laws concerning technology actually understand the technology they're dealing with? Following the series of recent arrests of people for using open WiFi networks, the definition of illegal equipment is being stretched. In the UK arrest, the guy was arrested for "possessing equipment for fraudulent use of a communications service," which all of us who have WiFi in our laptops probably are guilty of. At least that's just in the UK. Over here in the US it's apparently still legal to have WiFi equipment -- but if you dare try to boost your signal with an antenna, watch out. According to the head of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, the popular "cantenna" device is completely illegal. For those who don't know, someone a while back worked out that you could boost the range of your WiFi router with a Pringle's can. It requires a bit of work, so a small operation sprung up to sell Cantennas. They're quite popular with people who want to spread WiFi around a house where the basic router won't reach certain parts of it. Hell, even CompUSA sells them! But, according to this "high tech" police officer: "They're unsophisticated but reliable, and it's illegal to possess them." The article includes a story about how the police arrested a high school student for breaking into his school's network to change his grades and they (gasp!) found a cantenna in his room! Again, the crime he committed has nothing to do with having an antenna booster, but that doesn't stop the reporter and the cop from talking about the evils of connecting to WiFi networks.

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  1. identicon
    Zotter, 25 Jul 2005 @ 11:14am

    Re: Part 15

    Uh, in-spite of what the Cantenna sellers say on their web site - take a look at what the FCC says on the subject.

    http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/Documents/bulletins/oet63/oet63rev.pdf

    See Page 2 - Antenna Requirements

    Changing the antenna on a transmitter can significantly increase, or decrease, the strength of the signal that is ultimately transmitted. Except for cable locating equipment, the standards in Part 15 are not based solely on output power but also take into account the antenna characteristics. Thus, a low power transmitter that complies with the technical standards in Part 15 with a particular antenna attached can exceed the Part 15 standards if a different antenna is attached. Should this happen it could pose a serious interference problem to authorized radio communications such as emergency, broadcast and air-traffic control communications.

    In order to prevent such interference problems, each Part 15 transmitter must be designed to ensure that no type of antenna can be used with it other than the one used to demonstrate compliance with the technical standards. This means that Part 15 transmitters must have permanently attached antennas, or detachable antennas with unique connectors. A "unique connector" is one that is not of a standard type found in electronic supply stores.
    (Section 15.203)

    It is recognized that suppliers of Part 15 transmitters often want their customers to be able to replace an antenna if it should break. With this in mind, Part 15 allows transmitters to be designed so that the user can replace a broken antenna. When this is done, the replacement antenna must be electrically identical to the antenna that was used to obtain FCC authorization for the transmitter. The replacement antenna also must include the unique connector described above to ensure it is used with the proper transmitter.




    Now, what it sounds like the cantenna sellers may be saying is their device, being by itself - well, basicly useless, is compliant with part 15. They could just as easily say it's compliant with almost any rule - cuz it does nothing. It also absolves them of liability if a user gets 'caught'.

    Remember - you can't certify an antenna or a pig tail. You certify an end user transmitter - complete with feedline and antenna.

    But then, maybe the sellers are using the 'blanket' standard of what a Wi-fi transmitter is and ensure their gear will stay within compliance with any and every Wi-fi transmitter available.

    And then, there's the actual 'risk of getting caught', wich is so low as to hardly be worth mentioning.

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