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March 1, 2011

Spectrum is abundant

Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, has adopted a quirky and admirable approach to submitting filings to official bodies looking for comments on policies. Rather than writing the traditional legalistic brief, he has been commissioning pieces more readable by the non-lawyerly. I wrote an essay for him on copyright, and he’s just submitted and posted a second one by me on spectrum policy. [Disclosure: 1. Elliot is my friend. 2. He offered to pay me for writing this.]

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December 7, 2009

Google pushing for open spectrum

Kevin Fitchard at TelephonyOnline reports that Google’s Vint Cerf is pushing for open spectrum among mobile operators.

Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, is advocating a policy of spectrum sharing among operators. At the Open Mobile Summit, Cerf said that new modulation schemes in wireless would allow for the simultaneous occupation of the same spectrum by multiple parties, making the notion of a single operator/single license obsolete. For instance, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing access, which is the basis for WiMax and long-term evolution, abandons the notion of a single wide channel and instead splits a band into multiple sub-channels or tones, which could be used to dynamically create channels of varying widths. By tweaking the technologies already in development today for multiple entities, the industry could make a huge leap forward in more efficiently utilizing public spectrum resources, Cerf said.

An open spectrum policy would allow transmitters and receivers to decide in real time which frequencies to use, rather than assigning them frequencies ahead of time. This would enable more efficient use of spectrum, so long as the technology is capable of doing the real-time negotiating. It would also royally piss off carriers who have paid tons of money — billions — to buy allocations of spectrum.

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December 2, 2009

FCC moving on “white spaces” to make more spectrum usable

Harold Feld has a great post on movement at the FCC to make more spectrum available.

According to Harold, the FCC has requested proposals for databases to manage access to the “white spaces” between the frequencies assigned to TV stations. Those frequencies were left unused because analog TV originally needed lots of room between frequencies, which is why your analog stations tend to count by two’s. Plus, the switch to digital TV opened up some more frequencies. So, last year, the FCC voted 5-0 to make those frequencies available for unlicensed use. This will provide more room for innovation. It’s a very big deal.

The white spaces will be made available for fixed band devices, as well as for lower-power ad hoc usage. But, how will a device maker know what slice of spectrum is available? One approach would be to count on smart devices sensing which bands are uncongested and dynamically switch to them. But the FCC says that the sensing devices are not yet reliable enough. So, it is creating a database of white space spectrum usage. And it is allowing others to create databases as well. Those who create databases will be allowed to charge for allocating fixed spectrum and for accessing the database.

So, who gets to build and maintain these databases? How will they make money? How will they ensure accuracy? These and other questions are being left up to those who submit proposals. Harold Feld considers this to be a “good but weird” approach, since usually the FCC lays out the specifications before asking for proposals.

By the way, Harold’s preferred approach:

From my perspective, the most logical model is a non-profit operating on a non-exclusive basis and funded by the industries that benefit. The actual cost of running and managing this is pocket change to the likes of Google, Microsoft and Motorolla (which came up with this scheme in the first place). We shall have to see if they are that enlightened. But whoever is selected, it is important for the FCC to maintain a level of oversight that would prevent this from morphing into a bottleneck at some point in the future. Frankly, this is another reason why a coalition or non-profit with multiple stakeholders would be preferable to a single vendor/manager.

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