Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Unlicensed’s success: physics, not regulation?

Unlicensed allocations have generated a massive, and to many surprising, amount of innovation and value (see the References below). The question is: Why?

Almost all of the value so far has come in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, mostly due to Wi-Fi but also to a lesser extent Bluetooth applications. There is never a single, simple answer to a Why question about a complicated nexus of technology, politics and user behavior, but my impression is that unlicensed partisans believe that it's due pretty much exclusively to the techno-economic characteristics enabled by the rights assignment regime: “openness” (Benkler), “managed commons” (Milgrom, Levin & Eilat), or “rule-based access” (Thanki).

I think it's at least plausible that Wi-Fi's undoubted success has been due to a fortuitous coincidence of band choice, physics and timing as much as to regulation: It turned out that the interference range was small enough that users didn’t really degrade each other’s performance; and the networking needs of their applications could be met by the bandwidth available around them. In other words: the capacity of the channel was larger than the number of people who interfered with each other, multiplied by the data they wanted to move.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Emperor has Objections: Replies to feedback on our “Is Wi-Fi Congested?” paper

Our TPRC 2013 paper “The Emperor has no Problem: Is Wi-Fi Spectrum Really Congested?” ( has generated quite a bit of interest. Here are responses to some pointed questions and comments we've received.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Counting Spectrum in an Age of Sharing

Mike Marcus’s recent blog post Dueling Spectrum Charts - Part 2 is a nice reminder (not that anyone who reads his blog needs it) that spectrum isn’t just MHz. The current focus on “spectrum sharing” underlines the fact that one has to think of space and time as well as frequency. A more accurate (but also much more geeky) metric would divide MHz by percentage of population covered, and percentage of time allocated.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Using an auction to decide the number of 3.5 GHz spectrum access administrators

The FCC faces a choice of whether to authorize one database administrator or many to run the spectrum access system (SAS) that will manage small cell operation in the 3.5 GHz band. This resembles the choice between an exclusive-use licensing or unlicensed regime. The FCC could use an auction to let the market decide by using a simplified version of the 2008 Bykowsky, Olson and Sharkey proposal.