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I bought one of those wireless doorbells for my home a few days ago. A neighbor three houses down apparently bought one too, and whenever someone rings their doorbell, mine rings. Last week a guy from SBC was working on our telephone pole and my doorbell started ringing nonstop without anyone pressing my neighbor's or my doorbell. It stopped happening until early this morning, when my doorbell woke me up at 5:00 a.m. There was no one at my door or my neighbors'. What gives?

-- Sleepless in Clairemont

Welcome to Wireless Wonderland, a cordless world where appliances have a life of their own. Takes me back to the days of the big garage-door-opener uprising, where no home was safe from stray rays. Theoretically, Sleepless, your wireless doorbell should behave itself. It's a low-wattage transmitter in the button, and a receiver at the ding-dong end. The radio signal generated when somebody pushes your button is broadcast around your house, able to penetrate wood and glass, to reach the receiver and ring your bell. But it shouldn't be powerful enough to leak over to the neighbor's house, assuming his receiver is more than 150 feet away. But obviously that's just theory. The SBC guy might have been generating a signal with a cell phone or other piece of equipment. Who knows what wireless device set off the 5a.m. wake-up bell. If you check the doorbell's instruction book, you'll probably find that you can set your system to any of 100+ transmit-receive channels. Maybe you can find one that doesn't match your neighbor's or somebody's walkie-talkie or baby monitor or internet connection or other wireless, radio-controlled device.

The feds are wrestling with the problem of reallocating broadcast pathways. It used to be a relatively simple matter, and frequency assignments were even given away as political perks. But with the wireless revolution, things are changing fast. Unfortunately, these days, most of the low-powered devices fall into an essentially unregulated spectrum, and it's up to each manufacturer to build in enough flexibility to ensure these devices don't share radio frequencies and interfere with one another. The FCC calls these "rules of etiquette," not laws. So far, things are kind of impolite, and some consumer tinkering is usually required. And if history is any predictor, it will only get worse. We seem to love anything wireless. So when your radio-controlled lounge chair sets off your radio controlled washing machine, you may long for the good old days when all you had to worry about were your phantom doorbell ringers.

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