& 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. 

 
More Blogs from Column
The technical challenges of going wireless aren't small.
As new ambitions demand next-gen support, IBB has identified three primary ways that CSPs can upgrade their OSS/BSS systems to deliver that support.
To succeed at virtualization, operators need to realize that standards bodies, open source initiatives and vendor ecosystems aren't going to help.
MANO in the NFV space will be put through its paces at Light Reading's fourth annual Big Communications Event in Austin next month.
Take control of your career and confront stereotypes, overcome biases and achieve the full measure of success to which your talent, hard work and ambition entitle you.
From The Founder
Either we perform a complete 'factory reset' on the way the telecom industry creates and deploys virtualization, or we face the consequences.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
The Urgency of Commercial 5G Services

4|26|17   |     |   (0) comments


The progress of 5G has been closely monitored in the industry. At the 2017 Brooklyn 5G Summit, the sense of urgency for a commercial 5G launch had started to surface among operators.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
How Diversity Helps Comcast Mirror Its Customer Base

4|26|17   |   2:55   |   (0) comments


Diversity brings innovation, creative ideas and a way to reflect the broad spectrum of your customer base, Comcast Director of Customer Experience Jenelle Champlin says.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Mobile Operators & Video

4|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ovum's Ed Barton discusses the latest mobile operator strategies for mobile video.
LRTV Custom TV
Infinera Introduces Instant Network

4|20|17   |     |   (1) comment


Mike Capuano, vice president of marketing at Infinera, discusses the advancement from Instant Bandwidth to new Instant Network capabilities, which include Bandwidth License Pools, Moveable Licenses and Automated Capacity Engineering (ACE).
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Vodafone's Eubank on Sponsors, Mentors & Moving On Up

4|19|17   |   4:25   |   (0) comments


Vodafone America's Head of Operations Kimberly Eubank breaks down the difference between a sponsor and a mentor and shares why both made a big difference in her career.
LRTV Custom TV
NYC Auto Show: Are We Smart Yet?

4|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


The auto industry is facing some big transformations as electric vehicles, autonomous technology and connected cars are seen as the future of the industry. During the much-anticipated NY international auto show, there was an emergence of new technology and mobility service on the show floor. Aside from performance, brands like Lincoln, Hyundai, Honda, Mercedes and ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Impact of Video

4|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


David Mercer from Strategy Analytics discusses the impact of video on current strategies.
LRTV Custom TV
Pardeep Kohli Discusses Network Transformation & the Market Opportunity for the 'New' Mavenir Systems

4|13|17   |     |   (0) comments


In a brief discussion at MWC 2017, Heavy Reading analyst Adi Kishore talks to Pardeep Kohli, CEO, Mavenir Systems about the creation of the 'new Mavenir' and some of the key challenges facing operators in today's market. A key theme of the discussion centers around operator need for software-only, virtualized solutions and how they will need to adapt to ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Tech Maverick Shares Her Tips for Gender Inclusivity

4|12|17   |   7:28   |   (0) comments


Wendy Hall Bohling, a corporate escapee, author and gender exclusivity consultant, tells her story of sexism, bias and progress along the road to gender equality in the workforce.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei at MWC 2017

4|11|17   |     |   (0) comments


At Mobile World Congress 2017, the biggest mobile industry gathering of the year, Huawei showcased its new innovations and solutions with the theme "Open Road," which focuses on cloud, 5G, operation transformation, videos and consumer-oriented products. Its campaign has been recognized by three awards given by GSMA.
LRTV Custom TV
China Telecom NFV Infrastructure on RSD

4|6|17   |     |   (0) comments


Lynn Comp, senior director of market development of Intel, is joined by Chong Zhang, storage engineer at Inspur and Ou Li Yan, architect for technology strategies of China Telecom, for a discussion of what NFV brings.
LRTV Custom TV
Nokia's IMPACT Software Demo

4|6|17   |     |   (0) comments


Khamis Abulgubein of IoT market development at Nokia demonstrates IMPACT (intelligent management platform for all connected things), a software solution with a horizontal approach to managing any device on any application.
Upcoming Live Events
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
May 15, 2017, Brazos Hall - Austin, TX
May 15, 2017, Austin Convention Center - Austin, TX
June 6, 2017, The Joule Hotel, Dallas, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Surprise! AT&T Markets 4G Advances as '5G Evolution'
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/25/2017
Did Verizon Outbid AT&T for Straight Path?
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/25/2017
First Year TIPs the Scale Toward Success
Denise Culver, 4/24/2017
Ericsson's Q1 Even Worse Than Feared
Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/25/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
TEOCO Founder and CEO Atul Jain talks to Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the challenges around cost control and service monetization in the mobile and IoT sectors.
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.