Open Spectrum? Bah, Who Needs It!

from the wifi-anyone? dept

We’ve been among those arguing for years that it’s about time that the FCC comes up with a real comprehensive spectrum allocation plan — but, instead, they keep dribbling out spectrum here and there while waiting for the day when much of the wasted broadcast spectrum can be reclaimed. Last year, we were intrigued by the new spectrum allocation plan in the UK that would create a much more open market for spectrum. The idea was that rather than (as the FCC does) setting exactly what the spectrum must be used for and who can use it, the market is allowed to decide. That is, anyone can purchase the exclusive rights to the spectrum, but then, they can do with it as they want — whether that’s selling it to others, or making use of the spectrum. That, combined with a decent amount of open spectrum, seems like a fairly reasonable plan (amazingly enough). Not everyone agrees. The folks at the Progress & Freedom Foundation (with whom we’ve clashed before) have put out a report claiming that pretty much all spectrum should be licensed and auctioned off, and that the concept of open spectrum discourages investment, is inefficient, and slows innovation in the space.

That’s an interesting viewpoint, given the massive success of WiFi to-date in (oh, look at that!) open, unlicensed spectrum. The news report doesn’t go into much detail, but the full report, available at the group’s site uses up many pages of their report trashing those who believe in a “commons approach” to spectrum allocation. This approach, which has some big name backers, says that spectrum isn’t a scarce resource, and with the right technology, there’s no reason to license spectrum at all. While this idea is compelling, it’s that “with the right technology” part that’s the kicker. That technology that doesn’t quite exist yet. Interference still is an issue — though, it would be nice for it to not always be that way. However, in focusing their attack solely on the supporters of such an approach, the report totally brushes aside the evidence that their claims are wrong. WiFi has been a perfect example of the success of unlicensed spectrum — and it seems pretty clear that it was the openness of the spectrum that increased investment and increased innovation in the WiFi space, in direct contrast to the report’s claims (which brushes aside the WiFi example, suggesting that it would have worked better had it taken place in paid for, licensed spectrum). While open, unlicensed spectrum clearly does not make sense in all accounts (as long as interference still is around) to brush it aside completely, as this report appears to do is pretty questionable and misleading. The real issue is how competition is defined. For the report’s authors, competition is seen as being between different owners of spectrum. However, what WiFi has shown, is that competition works within the same bit of open spectrum — because of the openness. Can it lead to interference? Absolutely. But, depending on the application, some amount of interference can be fine — as it is with most basic WiFi implementations. Of course, it’s also worth noting that PFF is a well known opponent to muni-broadband efforts — and getting rid of more open spectrum (which is used for most muni-broadband offerings) would support that cause as well.


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Comments on “Open Spectrum? Bah, Who Needs It!”

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9 Comments
Anonymous of Course says:

Re: As long as they leave me alone

Sorry, you haven’t paid your spectrum use tax.
Turn that off…. CRASH! The government will
be paid one way or the other, spectrum auctions
are ok.

Oh, wait.. we already have open spectrum!

If you look at the regulations in 47CFR15
there are nice chunks of specturm set aside.
In fact it’s more interested in where emissions
should not be in order to protect various
services. It also mandates field strength
limits which is a GOOD thing.

Section 15.247 sets aside the bands 902-928 MHz,
2400-2483.5 MHz, and 5725-5850 MHz. With No
fees or licenses required although certification
isn’t cheap. That’s a lot of spectrum to play in.

If the manufacturers insist on jamming everything
into the 2.4Ghz band, so it’s crowded, then don’t
buy more 2.4Ghz devices. These devices are
cheapest because that’s where all the sales
volume is, the technology was a driver but it’s
not anymore.

The trend is towards more chunks being allocated
for wireless devices. I really don’t see a
problem here, why change?

- says:

Re: Re: As long as they leave me alone

because its only 3 tiny band withs and as you said, it has a power restriction. does your car have a power restriction? does your comter have a power restriction?

you don’t make laws saying a car can’t have over 300hp, you make laws that the car may travel only so fast on certain roads

the laws should be set so that there is no limit on your power output, but that there are guidlines (like speed limits) of how to approprately use that power

point in case, you could have all the power you want pumping out of your wifi station, but you shouldn’t use that power to try to disable all the phones in the general area. just like you can have all the power you want in the car just don’t use in top gear, keep that 300 hp in the lower gears so stay in the speed limit

There is No Such Thing says:

There Is No Such Thing as Interference

There is no such thing as “interference”. Radio waves do not “interfere” with one another. There is, however, such as a thing as electronics that do a poor job of picking a specific signal out of the air. This is what lay people call interference. Interference is a design decision that electronics manufacturers make, not a law of physics. For negligible additional manufacturing cost you can make bands as arbitrarily narrow as you like, or even do away with bands altogether (e.g., http://www.thefeature.com/article?articleid=100112 or http://www.smartmobs.com/archive/2003/10/02/werbach_there_.html. I think Techdirt and similar wesites should stop perpetuating the myth of interference.
“We all know, wireless communication can occur because governments parcel out access to the radio spectrum, a limited resource divided up into frequency bands. Without governments partitioning spectrum, there would be a cacophony in which no one could communicate effectively. Agencies like the Federal Communications Commission in the US must decide who can do what, in which frequencies. The alternative is chaos.
Don’t be so sure.
Everything I’ve just said is a lie. Familiar lies. Lies which were probably worth telling eighty years ago, when the basic structures of wireless regulation were established. But lies nonetheless. It’s time to tell the truth about wireless communication, and to change the fundamental framework of wireless policy.
Spectrum is an intellectual construct that helps us grasp a deeply alien phenomenon. We take wireless communication for granted because it is such a significant element of our lives, and has been for a century. But how many of us really understand how it works? Radio signals are electromagnetic radiation, governed by the mysterious laws of quantum mechanics. Even Albert Einstein could only explain radio by describing what it is not…”

Mike (profile) says:

Re: There Is No Such Thing as Interference

There is no such thing as “interference”. Radio waves do not “interfere” with one another. There is, however, such as a thing as electronics that do a poor job of picking a specific signal out of the air.

Then show us the systems that don’t interfere. Once we see those, we’ll support this viewpoint totally. We keep hearing this, and yet everything we see still has that problem. If it’s such a simple problem, why hasn’t it gone away?

I made it clear in the article above that with the right technology there shouldn’t be interference, so I’m not sure why you’re claiming that we’re saying something different from you.

Our only point is that we have yet to see these magical systems that don’t interfere.

Anonymous of Course says:

Re: There Is No Such Thing as Interference

“For negligible additional manufacturing cost you can make bands as arbitrarily narrow as you like, or even do away with bands altogether…”

You can do away with bands, which is not the same
as badnwidth. Narrow bandwidth, that is the range
of frequencies which the device will accept,
limits the data rate. Narrow bandwidth = low
speed data. Now tell me Nyquist and Shannon are
all wet.

In fact radio waves do interfere with themselves,
an example would be the frensel zone effects on
propagation.

A third item (there are many) is the mixing of
frequencies and their products. This can happen
in any non-linear system, even the ionosphere
(see Luxembourg Effect.) I hope I spelled that
correctly.

I think what you are getting at is spread spectrum
and UWB commuications systems. These are nothing
new. I saw UWB stuff in the mid-70’s and it was
first proposed in the mid-50s’. Both of these
raise the noise floor as signals are added. This
eventually causes system failure. So in fact they
DO interfere with each other but not in the strict
sense of the word.

Your post is pretty much wrong on all counts.

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