Podcast Audio | Posted by Phil Leigh on October 4, 2012
Background. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported consumers are increasing complaining that phone and tablet wireless Internet fees are causing a reduction in discretionary household spending elsewhere. Even 37% of presumably well-heeled Journal readers replied to an online poll confirming monthly mobile data bills are forcing them to sacrifice other items in the household budget. The problem is particularly acute for families with children where membership plans can easily reach $300 monthly.
The two dominant carriers, Verizon and AT&T, readily concede they expect monthly bills to climb steadily higher as they adopt metered bandwidth rates. As long as wireless traffic congestion is managed by granting exclusive frequency allocations in a manner originated a century ago, carrier executives can smile at the future like a roomful of bankers fondling TARP bailout money. Yet escalating Wireless Internet access fees will not only be more costly for consumers, they also damage future growth opportunities for powerful companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google.
For two years, Inside Digital Media has advocated that exclusive frequency allocations should be augmented with wireless spectrum white spaces. Yet, outside of a small circle of other white space supporters, the concept has been largely been orphaned. Thus I must be missing something – perhaps a great deal – and invite your comments as indicated below.
Analysis. One, or a combination, of three factors may explain the modest white spaces progress.
First, white spaces are poorly understood. Therefore, many decision-makers don’t understand how white spaces can increase wireless capacity and induce lower pricing through openly competitive market entry.
In short, wireless white spaces are presently authorized FCC channels that are not used uniformly throughout the country and can be explained by example.
If TV channel 9 is not used in Tampa, but presently used by a broadcaster in Miami, the channel 9 band is unnecessarily wasted in Tampa. A smartphone with a cognitive radio continuously aware of its geographic location will “understand” that it can use an unlicensed network on channel 9’s frequency in Tampa, but not Miami. Such cognitive devices can automatically query an online database and connect to applicable white space channels as hand-held units move from location-to-location. Since white space networks won’t require auctioned spectrum, they can be built at much lower cost by a larger number of operators.
Nonetheless, certainly the technical staffs at Apple, Google, and Microsoft understand white space. In point of fact, Google and Microsoft have been active white space advocates. But I would like to know why they have not done more with it, especially considering the vital interests at stake in the future of the wireless Internet, and indirectly their own companies.
Second, some observers argue on-the-fly white space allocation is technically too complicated. Authoritative readers are welcome to share an informed analysis. However, Microsoft has already built a campus-wide white space network thereby demonstrating technical feasibility. We assume that the probabilities that technical progress over the past century has failed to be adequate enough to implement white space principles are vanishingly small.
Third, white space deployment is contrary to the interests of politically influential companies such as Verizon and AT&T wireless. Given their market dominance, conventional frequency exclusivity nearly assures that they will be able to impose metered rates with impunity, thereby nearly guaranteeing a steady escalation of revenue-yield per subscriber.
Room for Debate. What are your thoughts? Please post comments at or email me at phil(at)insidedigitalmedia.com