Who Said Spectrum Policy Didn't Matter?

We’ve been saying for a while that one of the biggest issues ignored by the mainstream media when it comes to wireless broadband is spectrum policy. Spectrum is hugely important, but it seems boring, so very few people write about it. However, there have been a lot of fights (NextWave, anyone?) over spectrum allocation, and it’s only going to continue. The latest is that Clearwire (happy with its $900 million investment) is suing a California community college over spectrum it thought it had licensed, but which the college says is in dispute. As Glenn Fleishman notes, when there are billions on the line, expect to see plenty of lawsuits. And, of course, money and time spent on lawsuits tend not to be spent on deploying wireless networks.

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Comments on “Who Said Spectrum Policy Didn't Matter?”

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Mark says:

What a Waste...

of time! Spectrum regulation is such an out of date concept. We don’t regulate “spectrum” on the Internet and yet I can listen to thousands of different radios using my single “wireless” (WiFi) connection. If we were to deregulate and let the industry move towards software radios we would really see some interesting industry developments.

WirelessGuy says:

Guess you never had to frequency plan

The problem for Clearwire is that they are trying to market unlicensed sprectrum. They are in the exact problem they are in because there is no regulation. It is first come first serve, and is more about licensing the right for property, i.e. airport, stadiums, coffee houses, etc…that it is about the actual radio spectrum.

If we did allow every tom, dick and harry to build a wireless company, then we would have complete and utter chaos for the customer. While engineers bicker back and forth on who was there first, who has the rights to an area, channel, etc…the customer gets crappy service. The internet is regulated in who can be a class 1 provider and sell IP addresses. It isn’t as open as one might think. No one can just grab bandwidth without buying a certain amount of bandwidth or building it out. The spectrum is different in that it is physically contrained by the amount of cables, routers and switches one can purchase, where radio spectrum is finite. One a certain amount of subscribers can use a radio channel at one time. PERIOD.

Software radios would make the world a bit easier, providing faster responses, but they do not overcome basic radio principles of spectral efficiency. QAM technology is promising, but we are years away from a viable product, with Clearwire being the leader, and likely bleeder of money.

Mark says:

Frequency Planning

“The spectrum is different in that it is physically contrained by the amount of cables, routers and switches one can purchase, where radio spectrum is finite. One a certain amount of subscribers can use a radio channel at one time. PERIOD.”

Not true at all. Again, consider my WiFi-connected PC as a software radio. There are thousands of radio stations available to me over the same connection with no interference problems whatsoever. This is because each signal is coded differently (similar to CDMA). I “tune” into them by going to different URLs. If we got rid of all the “dumb” radios (which can tune based on FM and AM only and therefore require spectrum planning to allow only 1 station per AM or FM range) and replaced them with software radios we would eliminate this concern about limited spectrum.

WirelessGuy says:

So not true

CDMA technology has limits based on the amount of codes you can use. It is not unlimited like you are stating. If you would like to sit in one of my courses I teach on CDMA technology I would be happy to teach this to you. Your WiFi connection is what is limited, and who cares about your URL, which by the way is limited based on the number of obtainable IP addresses. Yes IPV6 will increase this, but until then there is a limit based on the number of IPs out there.

Your Sprint and Verizon phone also uses CDMA technology

Mark says:

More Info

Wow, how new ideas are met with hostility by people who are trained in the old ways.

“who cares about your URL, which by the way is limited based on the number of obtainable IP addresses”

The number of IP address is massive when compared to the number of radio stations allowed in the AM and FM bands. Are there Internet radio stations suffering because they can not get a URL the same way that traditional radio stations are suffering because they can not get frequency? No.

If you would like to understand better what is being discussed, I suggest you take a look at Radio Revolution – it does a much better a more thorough job than I can. I was using some simple metaphors to explain the concept.


Yes, CDMA has it’s limits, that was just a simplified metaphor I was using. I never said it was umlimited, just that the possibilities are still massive when compared with traditional AM and FM frequency allocation policies.

Mark says:

Spectrum Pig

The issue is not the fact that radio only uses 21 MHz but the fact that, given current spectrum allocation policies, there are a limited number of radios allowed to operate in any one given market. Under current policies, for crowded metros, you would have to open up more spectrum to allow more stations. Once you go to IP-based software radios, your “spectrum” opens up massively. You can connect to that “spectrum” any way you like (WiFi, MiWax, 2G cellulr, 3G cellular, etc). Of course, once you go IP-based, you are not just getting a massive number of potential radio stations, but everything else that’s IP-based. Inisting on carving spectrum up into bands based on AM and FM is very crude by comparison. It’s important to remember that once an AM or FM band has been allocated, only the company allocated that band can use. By contrast, with spread spectrum technologies, you can have multiple users in the same band.

WirelessGuy says:

Well then you never got the point of the article

The article is talking about radio spectrum to access the IP world, it isn’t talking about radio stations. I could care less about how many radio stations are out there streaming, what is important to me, and to companies like Clearwire, is how much wireless spectrum is available for people to access the IP domain. Hence my comments. We care about this because it is the most sacred resource we have.

If you care about people accessing streaming content, you better learn about limitations of people getting an IP address.

Yes radio spectrum is not a “pig” but that spectrum is only a viable resource for one way communication. To have a terrestrial two way system, one needs to operate at higher freq’s with more bandwidth.

I agree then that who really cares about radio spectrum & TV spectrum.

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