NICE AND EASY: Why don’t you need a license for Wi-Fi?

You do, actually… and the good news: you already have it. You might realize that Wi-Fi is a form of radio broadcasting, and so are cell phones, cordless phones, and even some remote controls. Radio broadcasting is tightly regulated, and not only do the radio stations themselves need licenses, but the on-air personalities do to. How is it that you, who possess so much radio technology, get away without even a smidgen of responsibility to the FCC?

Every Wi-Fi device is like a little radio station

Easy answer: The manufacturers do it for you. If you look at every gadget you own that potentially puts out radio waves, you will see that somewhere it carries an FCC ID number. For example, take a look at the image above and you’ll see one.  That number is actually the broadcast callsign of that particular thing. Ironically, it’s usually a string of letters, not a number. Each device you have is a miniature broadcast facility and each one is licensed. The manufacturer does all the paperwork so you don’t have to.

Yes even cell phones have this

Cell phones have FCC IDs for every radio within them. This actually means your cell phone could have four or five different licenses. The most important of these is the IMEI, which has been blurred out in this picture. It’s the way cell companies identify your phone when you’re going from cell to cell. Think of it as the “real” phone number of your device.

In the past, the FCC required every phone to have this sort of information either on the outside or on a sticker inside the battery compartment. Apple and Samsung didn’t much like that and they supported the E-Label act which took away the requirement for physical labels. Now, the only way to get that information is to look at the “About” section of your phone where you can find a lot of identifying information about the device you’ve go.

But why don’t you, as a human, need anything?

Because none of your devices broadcast very far. Each one of them, even your cell phone, has a broadcast power level that qualifies it for operation without a license. Each one is designed to operate in specific frequencies designed for public use. Wi-Fi devices rarely go more than 100 feet, and even cell signals peter out after a couple of miles. The FCC  wisely realized something. No one was going to buy a garage door opener or microwave oven if it was hard. They certainly wouldn’t if iy meant applying for a license and taking a test. So, they created a whole set of rules designed to keep unlicensed broadcasts from creating havoc. They thought it through, and you’re the one who benefits.

Oh by the way, if you’re looking for the best cellular or Wi-Fi devices, you’ll find them when you shop at Solid Signal.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.