There has been a marked increase in the use of Wireless local area networks (WLANs) by small business and the public in Australia.
WLANs are commonly used by:
companies in work places to connect devices in a local area network
hotels and airports to provide wireless Internet connections to their customers
Internet service providers
community groups to connect members to the internet
If you use a WLAN, you need to comply with licensing requirements under the Radiocommunications Act and the Telecommunications Act.
There are two main types of licensing:
Radiocommunications licensing covers the use of radiocommunications equipment within the radiofrequency spectrum.
Telecommunications licensing covers the use of network units for the supply of telecommunications services to the public.
Requirements of the Radiocommunications Act
The Radiocommunications Act requires that operation of radiocommunications equipment is covered by a licence.
There are three types of radiocommunications licence:
Most WLANs operate radiocommunications equipment under class licences. These are 'open, standing authorities' allowing anyone to operate specific equipment, provided that operation is within the conditions of the licence.
Class licences do not have to be applied for and no licence fees are payable. Equipment subject to class licences includes citizen band radios, mobile phone handsets, cordless telephones and other low output devices. Equipment operating under a class licence is often described as operating in a 'public park'.
Under a particular class licence, all users operate in the same segment of the radiofrequency spectrum on a shared basis and are subject to the same conditions. A class licence governs the frequencies that may be used, imposes power limits, commonly prescribes equipment standards, and may specify other technical and operational parameters.
Requirements of the Telecommunications Act
Under the Telecommunications Act, an owner of a network unit must have a carrier licence or a nominated carrier declaration if the network unit is used to supply a carriage service to the public, unless an exemption applies.
Supplying a carriage service to the public means supplying carriage services to people outside the immediate circle of the network unit owner, as defined in section 23 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. For example:
if the owner of the network unit is an individual, the immediate circle consists of employees of the individual;
if the owner of the network unit is a partnership, the immediate circle consists of employees of the partnership; and
if the owner of the network unit is a body corporate, the immediate circle consists of officers of the body corporate and, if another body corporate is related to the first body corporate (within the meaning of the Corporations Act), that other body corporate and officers of that body corporate.
The radiocommunications equipment used for a WLAN is generally a 'designated radiocommunications facility', one of the types covered under the Telecommunications Act. The exceptions to this situation are discussed below.
Under the Telecommunications Act, a WLAN may be a base station that is a part of terrestrial radiocommunications customer access network if:
the base station is part of a telecommunications network
the base station is not an exempt base station
the base station is used, or for use, in connection with the supply of carriage services
customer equipment used for the supply of the service is not in physical contact with any part of the telecommunications network by means of which the service is supplied
the service is wholly or principally used, or wholly or principally for use, by each end-user at premises occupied or used by the end-user; or in the immediate vicinity of these premises
the network does not have intercell hand-over functions; and
the network is not an exempt network
A terrestrial radiocommunications customer access network is an exempt network if it is used for the sole purpose of supplying carriage services on a non-commercial basis.
Do you need a licence?
The following questions may help determine if the WLAN is commercial and requires a carrier licence.
Do you receive any direct or indirect reward, monetary or other, for use by others of your network equipment?
Do you have a contract or any other agreement (verbal or written) with parties involved in the use of the network, dealing, for example, with the payment of money and performance obligations?
Do you use the network for the purpose of making a profit?
Do you have an ABN for use in connection with the operation of the network?
If the answer to any of the above questions in yes you should contact the ACMA.
Situations where a carrier licence is not required
Other situations where a carrier licence is not required include:
company LANs used by company employees where supply to the public is not involved
wireless networks in an airport lounges, hotels, shopping centres and Internet cafes where the service is provided in a single place
Carriage service providers, including internet service providers, which own and use radiocommunications equipment to supply carriage services to the public on a commercial basis, are required to be licensed under the Telecommunications Act.
There are obligations and safeguards imposed on licensed carriers and carriage service providers by the Telecommunications Act that protect consumers.
It is important to note that, if consumers use an unlicensed network, they will not receive the same protections as they would if they used a licensed network.