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A Cell-Phone Network without a License


A trial cell-phone network in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, gets by without something every other wireless carrier needs: its own chunk of the airwaves. Instead, xG Technology, which made the network, uses base stations and handsets of its own design that steer signals through the unrestricted 900-megahertz band used by cordless phones and other short-range devices.

It's a technique called "cognitive" radio, and it has the potential to make efficient use of an increasingly limited resource: the wireless spectrum. By demonstrating the first cellular network that uses the technique, xG hopes to show that it could help wireless carriers facing growing demand but a relatively fixed supply of spectrum.

Its cognitive radios are built into both the base stations of the trial network, dubbed xMax, and handsets made for it. Every radio scans for clear spectrum 33 times a second. If another signal is detected, the handset and base station retune to avoid the other signal, keeping the connection alive. Each of the six base stations in xG's network can serve devices in a 2.5-mile radius, comparable to an average cell-phone tower.

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