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Wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, cellular 4G networks and satellite communication are all radio-based under the hood. Meaning that they all send and receive radio signals, inside of regulated bandwidths, as their underlying form of communication. For instance, to be "Wi-Fi", the device must send-and-receive radio signals around the 2.4GHz bandwidth. For satellite, the signals must be inside the 136-138 MHz band range, etc.

I'm wondering what internationally-recognized agencies/bodies regulate these radio-based wireless technologies, both in North America as well as in Europe.

In the United States, I would imagine it would be either the FCC, the FAA, or both, but I can't tell where there regulatory boundaries are. So I ask: what official bodies regulate radio-based communications in these jurisdictions? I'm mostly interested in US, Canada and UK, but would love to be informed about other European (even Asian) countries as well.


Update: Here's a quick useful link for any future-comers that have a similar question: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_telecommunications_regulatory_bodies

  • SatCom is not confined to 136-138 MHz. The spectrum used for fixed/mobile Earth to space comms is much more varied. – Deer Hunter Oct 2 '15 at 23:57
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In the US, radio communication proper is regulated by the FCC and the NTIA. The FAA has nothing to do with it; they regulate things as they affect airplanes, but the actual radio rules are set by the FCC, and since frequency allocation is a purely radio thing the FAA has nothing official to do with it. The breakdown between FCC and NTIA is that the FCC deals with non-federal communications, while the NTIA deals with federal communications; they split the spectrum.

Now, with things like Wi-Fi, many of the rules are set by non-governmental standards organizations. Wi-Fi is not regulated by the FCC; it falls within the frequencies and transmission powers that the FCC has deemed to be not regulated. So, the FCC never set aside 2.4 GHz for wireless Internet; they set it aside for any low-powered transmissions anyone wants to make (subject to interference rules). With LTE and satellite communications, there's more regulatory control; they are high-powered communications, and are licensed to individual operators for a specific frequency range.

As Flup said, there is international coordination for obvious reasons (the ITU actually predates the UN by almost a century). The ITU helps coordinate spectrum usage, and also assigns satellite orbital slots in geostationary orbit (where most communication satellites are).

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The ITU's Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is responsible for worldwide spectrum coordination. It's an agency of the United Nations.

World Radio Conferences are held regularly for spectrum planning and coordination purposes.

In the US, the FCC is responsible domestically; in the UK, it's OFCOM.

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In Canada, the technical aspects of broadcasting (Who gets to use which frequency, what needs to be restricted to avoid causing interference, allocating station call signs) are regulated by the Department of Industry (Also known as "Industry Canada"). The information being transmitted (whether by radio or by wire) is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the CRTC) which is associated with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

In the US, both of those responsibilities (technical and content) are combined in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

In the UK, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) likewise combines technical and content regulation. It also regulates communication by post.

Coordinating things internationally between these agencies and their counterparts in other countries is done by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It was initially an independent intergovernmental organization, but was subsequently incorporated into the United Nations. It's the ITU that decides which countries get which blocks of call sign prefixes for instance.

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In the UK, Ofcom regulates all types of radio frequencies. UK legislation the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 2006 is the legal standpoint that they follow, but they manage everything from TV channels to Two way Radios. Ofcom licence the installation or use of wireless telegraphy radio equipment in the UK mainland including Northern Ireland and territorial waters, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and issue licences for using and Installing Two way radio equipment, controlling and enforcing regulations of manufacture, sale, import and possession of radio apparatus and radio equipment.

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