& cplSiteName &

Playing by the Rules: The Success of Unlicensed Spectrum

Richard Thanki
3/7/2014
50%
50%

For over a century, wireless services using licensed spectrum have profoundly shaped our lives. It’s difficult to imagine a world without the influence of radio, television, satellite links, and mobile telephony.

However, during the last 15 years, communication using the unlicensed bands of spectrum has witnessed an explosion in usage and utility that rivals, and in many ways eclipses, the licensed experience.

  • Unlicensed spectrum has allowed unprecedented innovation in wireless applications and technology. Multiple standards, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee, have enabled a dizzying array of connected devices. In addition many of the most pivotal recent innovations in wireless technology, from multiple antenna techniques to advanced modulation, first found widespread deployment with unlicensed technologies.
  • Unlicensed networks carry most of the world’s Internet traffic. WiFi networks carry more Internet traffic from end-user devices, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones, than Ethernet cables and mobile networks combined. Even in the case of smartphones, more Internet data traffic is carried on WiFi than on 3G and 4G networks.
  • The majority of wireless devices shipped use unlicensed bands to communicate. More devices are shipped each year that use unlicensed technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth than those that use the licensed bands.
  • The Internet of Things will consist almost exclusively of unlicensed wireless devices. By 2020, around 100 billion devices will be connected, with more than 95 percent using unlicensed technologies to communicate. The idea of SIM cards for every device is simply not coming to pass.

This flowering of innovation and industry has also generated immense economic value. Multiple economic studies have demonstrated the substantial economic value generated by unlicensed wireless technology. A recent analysis by Raul Katz, Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information, suggests that in the US alone the value from unlicensed spectrum is $140 billion per annum . As wireless connectivity further permeates every aspect of everyday life, commerce, and industry these benefits will grow commensurately.

Perhaps the key to its success is that potential participants in the unlicensed spectrum bands simply have to follow a set of rules with no need to either obtain permission from a spectrum "owner" or acquire such a title themselves. These two approaches, access by rules and access by title, are used by societies to manage access to a number of limited-capacity resources.

For example, we use rule-based access to enable access to our road networks and justice systems and title-based access to manage access to most land. Professor Brett Frischmann, affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, provides a succinct explanation of why rule-based systems (those following a "commons management principle") can generate greater benefits in some instances than title-based access:

    The general value of commons as a resource management principle is that it maintains openness, does not discriminate among users or uses of the resource, and eliminates the need to obtain approval or a license to use the resource. As a general matter, managing infrastructure resources in an openly accessible manner eliminates the need to rely on either market actors or the government to “pick winners” downstream. In theory, at least, this facilitates innovation in the creation of and experimentation with new uses. More generally, it facilitates the generation of positive externalities through the downstream production of public goods and non-market goods that might be stifled under a regime where access is allocated on the basis of individuals’ willingness to pay.

The unlicensed bands display these characteristics in spades. Freedom to access the spectrum has prompted the creation of a range of standards that act like public goods: empowering any manufacturer -- from the very smallest to the very largest -- to create compatible devices that can be sold directly to a global market of end-users.

The pace of change in unlicensed spectrum isn’t slowing down. In coming years we will see new bands of unlicensed spectrum coming into widespread use, opening further avenues for innovation and industry.

— Richard Thanki is a former Ofcom economist and a current PhD candidate at the University of Southampton.

(6)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
AJ Allred
50%
50%
AJ Allred,
User Rank: Light Beer
3/16/2014 | 3:18:29 AM
Re: Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
Ironically, communist and primitive systems can sometimes get things done more efficiently than our 'democratic' dual-squeeze of land title and permit hurdles.

No wonder China and Africa are advancing with relative speed in wireless - - they don't have to step over so many zoning people who are protecting the "view scape".

As a former planner myself, I can attest that planning uses tools of the past to prevent the present from ever reaching the future.

If we want our phones to work, then we should stop hating the cell tower.
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/10/2014 | 9:19:09 PM
Re: Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
Here's something I learned recently: Today's system of licensing developed during a humanitarian crisis. Legislators were reacting to the perception that unlicensed amateurs were swamping the signals from the US Navy and other authorized providers who were attempting to send assistance to the victims of that disaster.

The disaster was the sinking of the Titanic. Yes, the current regime is THAT OLD.

And even then the licensing system was unnecessary. The problem wasn't unlicensed amateurs -- the problem with the Titanic was that the ship radio operator was a fool.
Richard Thanki
50%
50%
Richard Thanki,
User Rank: Light Beer
3/10/2014 | 8:02:25 AM
Re: Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
It's interesting that in land, as in many other resources/infrastructures rule-based operation (zoning laws) co-exists with a system of titles and licences (land ownership)!
Richard Thanki
50%
50%
Richard Thanki,
User Rank: Light Beer
3/10/2014 | 7:59:04 AM
Re: Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
Licensing will be necessary for the foreseeable future, especially for services where the costs of infrastructure deployment are relatively very high and link budgets need certainty. Certainly the case for mobile and satellite.

 

However, for the vast majority of new connectivity applications the market will choose unlicensed technologies - the performance to cost/hassle ratio is too high to ignore. Even mobile operators are likely to plump for unlicensed for small cell backhaul.

 

This situation will become even more pronounced as increasingly sophisticated radios, antennas and processing are able to eke ever more performance out of unlicensed bands.
Mitch Wagner
100%
0%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/7/2014 | 5:30:01 PM
Re: Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
Is there a case to be made against unlicensed spectrum? Is there a case to be made for the continuation of licensing spectrum, given technology advances that make that framework unnecessary.
AJ Allred
50%
50%
AJ Allred,
User Rank: Light Beer
3/7/2014 | 1:22:52 PM
Thanki's "Playing by the Rules"
Richard Thanki's piece "Playing By the Rules" is good stuff.  In the USA, wireless carriers have to clear hurdles in both the "rules" and "title" realms:  zoning permit constraints can be major hurdles by themselves (rules realm), and may encourge excessive land purchase or leasing revenue expectations by constraining market options (title realm).

Consumers might do themselves a favor by pushing their municipalities to ease-up a bit on zoning constraints that are often out-of-date and/or based too much on fuzzy aesthetics.  Licensed spectrum ought not to a too-easy target for out-of-touch land planners. 

 
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Column
WiFi is offering a challenge to the network-centric cellular status quo and that's something that mobile network operator CEOs recognize, believes Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser.
NFV can bring operational headaches as well as operational gains, argues Andy Huckridge.
5G is about so much more than just very high bandwidth and low latency – and SDN is going to play a key role in enabling 5G full potential, argues ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt.
To ensure the best possible customer experience, service providers must find ways to make more performance metrics available to users.
How cable operators can prepare to grasp the mobility opportunity.
From The Founder
Download our complete guide to de-risking NFV deployment in 2016, including:
  • An eight-step strategy to deploying NFV safely, based on input from the companies that have already started virtualizing their production networks.
  • Interviews with leading executives at Colt, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Cisco, Nokia, ZTE, Ericsson and Heavy Reading.
  • Flash Poll
    Live Streaming Video
    Prepping for the Future: Upskill U Explained
    During this short kick-off video, Doug Webster, Vice President of Service Provider Marketing, Cisco, and Light Reading’s CEO & Founder Steve Saunders give an overview of Upskill U.
    Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
    Atrinet's NetACE – Migration to NFV & SDN With NetOps-Driven LSO

    5|4|16   |     |   (0) comments


    At Atrinet's headquarters, Ray Le Maistre sits down with Roy Silon to get an in-depth look into the company's focus and the secret recipe for their success.
    LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
    Amsterdam ArenA, Powered by Huawei

    5|4|16   |     |   (0) comments


    Huawei's ICT solutions power the state-of-the-art Amsterdam ArenA, turning it into a smart stadium.
    LRTV Interviews
    Testing When There's No 'There' There

    5|4|16   |     |   (0) comments


    The benefits of SDN/NFV are well known, but the transition comes with some challenges, prominent among them is: how do you test a network that has been abstracted and has the potential to be endlessly reconfigurable? Light Reading was at NFV World Congress in Santa Clara, Calif., where we bumped into Mats Nordlund, CEO and co-founder of Netrounds, a Swedish ...
    LRTV Interviews
    Ditching the Slash & the Orchestration Wars

    5|3|16   |     |   (2) comments


    SDN and NFV have been inextricably bound with each other for so long that on a conceptual level, smooshing them together into one catch-all phrase – SDNFV – is now justifiable, according to Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). Light Reading spoke to Pitt at the NFV World Congress, where he explained that the next ...
    LRTV Custom TV
    ZTE TV Connect Highlights

    5|3|16   |     |   (0) comments


    ZTE gives us a tour of its booth and new products at TV Connect in London.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Deluxe's Unified Delivery Solution

    5|3|16   |     |   (0) comments


    Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and visit the Deluxe booth at NAB! Here you'll find Deluxe's Unified Delivery Solution, OTT video, virtual reality, HDR, 4K and much more!
    LRTV Interviews
    Verizon Puts Gray Boxes in the Shade

    5|2|16   |   04:33   |   (1) comment


    When it comes to the white box trend, "gray" boxes, which have a slight proprietary twist, don't give service providers and end users the advantages they're seeking, according to Verizon's Vice President of Product and New Business Innovation Shawn Hakl.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Dealing With a Disrupted Video Market

    5|2|16   |     |   (0) comments


    Ericsson's Simon Frost discusses how traditional pay-TV providers can cope with the big changes wrought by the rise of OTT video and IP technology.
    LRTV Custom TV
    The VNF Responsibility of Red Hat

    5|2|16   |     |   (0) comments


    At MWC, Caroline Chappell of Heavy Reading visits the Red Hat booth and sits down with Chris Wright to talk about the responsibility the VNF needs to take on in order to ensure the operators get the carrier-grade performance they expect for their network.
    LRTV Interviews
    AT&T Expert on the Key Pillars of UC

    4|29|16   |   03:58   |   (0) comments


    Vishy Gopalakrishnan, AVP of product marketing at AT&T, talks about the three developments that are making unified communications and collaboration secure and reliable for enterprise users.
    LRTV Documentaries
    LRTV Report: Mobile Core Innovation

    4|28|16   |   25:32   |   (0) comments


    Hear from multiple industry experts from Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, Heavy Reading, Huawei, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, NEC and many more about developments in the mobile core as operators virtualize their IMS and evolved packet core systems and prepare for a 5G world.
    LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
    NFV World Congress Highlight

    4|26|16   |     |   (0) comments


    The highlight of the NFV World Congress contains exciting telecom news. Join us for an inside look at Huawei's ICT 2020 plan and its latest collaboration with industry leaders.
    Upcoming Live Events
    May 23, 2016, Austin, TX
    May 23, 2016, Austin Convention Center
    May 24-25, 2016, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
    September 13-14, 2016, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
    December 6-8, 2016,
    June 16-18, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
    All Upcoming Live Events
    Infographics
    A new survey conducted by Heavy Reading and TM Forum shows that CSPs around the world see the move to digital operations as a necessary part of their overall virtualization strategies.
    Hot Topics
    WiCipedia: Woman Cards & Bitch Switches
    Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 4/29/2016
    Amazon AWS Reports $2.6B Quarterly Revenue, Up a Colossal 64%
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 4/28/2016
    Sprint CEO: Our Spectrum Is for 5G
    Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/3/2016
    Amazon & Other 'Big 4' Cloud Providers Crushing Competitors
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 4/29/2016
    FCC Poised to Re-Regulate Wholesale Access
    Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 4/28/2016
    Like Us on Facebook
    Twitter Feed
    BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
    In this latest installment of the CEO Chat series, Craig Labovitz, co-founder and CEO of Deepfield, sits down with Light Reading's Steve Saunders in Light Reading's New York City office to discuss how Deepfield fits in with the big data trend and more.
    Grant van Rooyen, president and CEO of Cologix, sits down with Steve Saunders, founder and CEO of Light Reading, in the vendor's New Jersey facility to offer an inside look at the company's success story and discuss the importance of security in the telecom industry.
    Animals with Phones
    Sloth Mail Click Here
    Sloth mail -- somehow even slower than snail mail.
    Live Digital Audio

    Of all the tech companies in the Valley, Intel has made the most aggressive commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace culture. It's doing so by taking concrete, measurable steps, making a large financial investment and through a commitment to complete transparency about its progress. In this radio show, WiC Director Sarah Thomas will be joined by Shlomit Weiss, Intel's Vice President, Data Center Group, and General Manager of Networking Engineering, who will share with us why Intel is tackling this huge challenge, how and to what effect. She will also discuss her unique experiences leading development of Client SOC development in the past and today leading development of all of the chipmaker's silicon hardware for networking IPs and discrete devices and managing a team of 600 engineers across Israel, Europe and the US.