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Things you can’t do with real estate

David Reed blogs about recent research on “practical ways to construct EM (radio) waves with new, complex 3D structures that propagate while maintaining that structure, not necessarily in spherical or cylindrical shapes.” I am not even close to understanding the physics, but, as David writes, this sort of possibility makes it clear how foolish it is to regulate the airwaves as if they were real estate that has to be divided up into slices that are awarded as monopolies to the highest bidder. David writes:

… the policy issue is that such systems for multiplexing such EM fields don’t fit the “law of the land” regarding sharing the medium. So, like UWB [ultra wideband] and spread spectrum underlay, and white spaces, all that capacity will evaporate in attempting to fit the technology into the procrustean bed of the FCC’s “property rights in spectrum” legal framework.

The “property rights” model of spectrum allocation and radio regulation is based on physics-by-analogy, ignoring the reality of propagation. It’s time to end the ignorance of economists and lawyers, and replace physics-by-analogy with better physical analysis.

Or, to put the analogy the other way, if real estate operated the way energy and information do, the little slice of beach front you’re charging $5,000 a night for would go from having room for four honeymooning couples to being the 127 miles of the New Jersey coastline and simultaneously a set of holiday villas in Brazil, just because a Swedish scientist found some new way of twisting it around. In such a case, the FCC (Federal Coastal Commission) would probably want to rethink its rules for allocating beachfront properties. [Tags: ]

3 Responses to “Things you can’t do with real estate”

  1. These techniques are experimental, and nobody knows if and when they’ll graduate from that status to practical systems that operate successfully in the field. I’d suggest that we might want to refrain from throwing out all spectrum regulations until such time that we’ve seen a practical demonstration, running systems, and consumer abandonment of legacy systems. The transition from analog to digital TV that was recently delayed by the FCC and Congress should tell us something about the costs of obsoleting the installed base of billions of RF-based systems. First the experiment, then the product, and only then the regulatory reform.

  2. Richard, I agree that we don’t want to throw out the working baby with the experimental bath water. (Hmm. Didn’t quite get the cliche right. Anyway.) But the experiments and the progress should keep us cautious about further embedding the 1930s tech assumptions into law, policy, and economics. Cautious.

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