Last Thursday, September 17, we held a workshop on Spectrum. Though I may be slightly biased (and very geeky), I thought it was the coolest workshop to date. Where else can you have well-informed people disagree so starkly on such key issues as the need for more licensed spectrum (some say we need it now, others that we still have a lot of idle capacity) and sources of that spectrum (some say the government, others point to specific commercial users)? At what other workshop have panelists thrown out such cool terms as "White-Fi" and "self-optimizing networks," then actually been able to explain their application to the real world?
Though it's nearly impossible to capture the essence of such a rich discussion, I drew 3 conclusions from the workshop.
1. The usage of wireless broadband services is growing at a faster rate than technological advances and other innovations to make more efficient use of spectrum. At some point, therefore, we will face a spectrum supply-demand imbalance.
2. There are numerous approaches to address the supply-demand imbalance, all of which are important and none of which can alone solve the problem:
- A complete, dynamic database of current occupants, licensed and unlicensed, by time, geography, and frequency, would help bring transparency to the marketplace.
- Building on this database, a well-functioning secondary market would facilitate movement of spectrum licenses to their most productive uses.
- Investment in and commercialization of innovative new technologies will continue to deliver more efficient and economic usage of existing spectrum allocations.
- We can only squeeze so much juice out of the orange, so to speak. We will need to find additional sources of spectrum to allocate to wireless broadband services to meet growing demand.
3. Finally, wireless broadband service is critical to solving our broadband deployment and adoption challenges - we need to start working on solving the spectrum supply-demand imbalance today, even if it won't reach "crisis" stage until some point in the future. Coleman Bazelon, one of the panelists, summarized the importance best when he said that no other current commercial usage of spectrum delivers as much economic value as wireless broadband service (I paraphrase, of course).
Another point came across clearly during the workshop: we can learn a lot about using spectrum more efficiently from the explosion of devices and applications in unlicensed spectrum, and from non-commercial use of cognitive radios and ad hoc networking driven by DARPA for military applications.
Like any animated discussion, though, the workshop also raised more questions in my mind:
- How much additional spectrum will we need for wireless broadband service to close the supply-demand gap?
- By when will we need this additional spectrum?
- From whom do we get this additional spectrum? How?
- What policies will enable continued innovation in spectrum efficiency and migration towards more productive uses of spectrum? What policies would hurt?
I'm very interested to read what others think about the spectrum challenges and opportunities we face today. I encourage you to engage in this process by continuing the discussion thread on the blog or by filing comments with ECFS Express (or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file). You can also file comments responding to the Wireless Innovation NOI using the same docket number, 09-51. Thanks in advance for your input!