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.