You read it right here in Information Week: "The Israeli government has barred importation of the iPad and is also seizing units from tourists who attempt to enter the country with one of Apple's new tablet-style computers." I can’t remember the last time I heard of anything like this. The lowly iPad as a threat to national security? Hmmm.
The story, as I understand it, is that the iPad can operate on frequencies and/or at power levels not allowed for unlicensed use in Israel. That’s true. But, Earth to the Israeli spectrum police: just about every Wi-Fi chipset and consequently end-user device manufactured can do that as well.
All those notebooks you’re not confiscating are also potential spectral threats. With minimal knowledge and a little tweaking, all kinds of incompatibilities can be created just about everywhere on the planet. Want to -- illegally, of course -- use Wi-Fi channels 12 and 13, which isn't allowed in the United States? No problem. How about the 4.9 GHz. licensed band? Ditto. Why, then, single out the iPad?
There’s more than meets the eye here, obviously, but Israel has in fact raised a fair point. Specific frequency allocations, and other parameters such as transmit power and even allowed applications, are in fact a matter of national sovereignty. The use of the airwaves in any given country is in fact at the discretion of the local regulatory authorities.
This is why GSM was never made available in the US on the same frequencies as are used almost everywhere else in the world, and why, and I know this comes as a surprise to some, Wi-Fi, the closest we have to a global radio standard apart from shortwave and air traffic control, also isn’t uniformly available everywhere.
Normally this isn’t a problem. Client devices will automatically set default parameters according to the access point to which they connect, so, again, unless a user goes in a tweaks certain settings that most users should never tweak, there should be nothing to fear.
This begs the questions: suppose someone incorrectly sets, intentionally or otherwise, any given Access Point, so as to create a technically feasible but regulatorily unsound link? That could be trouble, but such a scenario isn’t specific to any particular product.
As is often the case, they have to catch you first. This is actually pretty hard to do, and involves active monitoring and locating. Given the limited range of unlicensed devices like Wi-Fi adapters, and their mobile, infrequent, low-duty-cycle usage, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone is going to get caught unless a concerted effort is put in place. While interference from a misbehaving device isn’t going to bring down a network, this might in fact be done, for, say, political reasons.
I think that’s what’s going on here. If you’ve been following the news, there appears to be little love lost between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. Their last meeting at the White House didn’t go well. Something about building houses on the West Bank, and/or perhaps Iran. No matter; nations are known to behave at least moderately irrationally when trying to make a point; just ask those hikers who strayed into Iran or the American journalists detained under equally suspect conditions in North Korea.
Want to demonstrate that you matter? Ban the iPad, even though in reality it poses no more spectral risk than any other Wi-Fi device. It’s an easy way to make a point without subjecting innocent users to hard labor.
To be fair, it may be that Apple’s drivers need some tweaking to take international use into consideration. The current product, after all, is designed for the US market only. That fix, if required, should be easy enough. But, in the interim, the chance of bringing down Wi-Fi networks or interfering with government radio systems is really pretty minimal. Israel, home to some of the finest RF engineers anywhere, knows this. I’ve often said that marketing is today more important than technology. It would appear that politics is as well.
Craig Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile advisory firm based in Ashland, MA. Craig is an internationally recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing technologies. He is a well-known industry analyst and frequent speaker at industry conferences and trade shows.