& 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
The systems and processes used for assuring networks services and business models will need to be updated to support telco cloud and virtualization strategies.
Private investment is essential if the US is to reach its broadband goals, particularly for connecting rural America, writes former Congressman Rick Boucher.
Operators want to take advantage of cloudification, but the communications network is not the data center so they need to bridge the gap between the network and the cloud.
Is the current virtual reality customer experience equivalent to the significant investment?
With flexibility and speed becoming increasingly important in service development, microservice capabilities are attracting increasing attention.
From The Founder
Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators.
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
4.5G Evolution: Peter Zhou on Advanced MIMO Technologies & 5G Business Prep

2|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


In the process of service transformation, operators need to catch three major opportunities and start deploying in 4.5G networks, such as video, household broadband access and digital transformation of vertical industries. 5G is coming. Operators don't need to wait for it to happen but should progressively deploy 4.5G networks by introducing 5G-oriented ...
LRTV Custom TV
What WTTX Can Deliver

2|23|17   |     |   (0) comments


Mohamed Madkour explains the benefits of WTTX while Dimitris Mavrakis discusses the challenges of delivering home broadband access.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei on Mobile Broadband

2|23|17   |     |   (0) comments


Mohamed Madkour shares his vision on MBB for the next three years.
LRTV Custom TV
Analysys Mason Talks About the Future of Digital Operations

2|23|17   |     |   (0) comments


The future of digital operations has three key aspects: 1. Highly automated operations for both service and network; 2. Highly converged BSS/OSS for business and resources; 3. Highly merged management and control for real-time cloud native operations.
LRTV Interviews
Software Trends in the Telecom Sector

2|23|17   |   03:40   |   (0) comments


Heavy Reading senior analyst James Crawshaw talks with Telecoms.com Editorial Director Scott Bicheno about trends and developments in the telecoms software sector and what to expect at MWC 2017.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei's Pre-MWC Analyst Briefing 2017 Highlights

2|22|17   |     |   (0) comments


Huawei shares its vision for this year's MWC.
LRTV Interviews
MWC17: 5G, Cloud RAN & More

2|21|17   |   04:35   |   (0) comments


Ovum Senior Analyst Julian Bright talks to Scott Bicheno from Telecoms.com about all things MWC, including Cloud RAN, Huawei's pitch to the industry and the road to 5G.
LRTV Interviews
MWC 2017's Key 2-Letter Terms

2|20|17   |   08:29   |   (1) comment


5G, AI, VR... these are just some of the two-letter terms that will dominate show-floor chat at MWC 2017 in Barcelona, according to these two blow-hards (a.k.a. Scott Bicheno of Telecoms.com and Light Reading's Ray Le Maistre). And then there's PB...
LRTV Interviews
Key Trends for Mobile Operators in Developing Markets

2|20|17   |   06:37   |   (0) comments


Ovum's Matthew Reed talks to Scott Bicheno from Telecoms.com about the challenges and opportunities facing mobile operators in the developing markets of Africa and the Middle East.
LRTV Documentaries
YouTube Takes on Facebook Live-Streaming

2|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Popular 'YouTubers' will be the first to get the new service on their smartphones. You have been warned.
LRTV Custom TV
Open Source NFV/SDN Automation

2|17|17   |   05:54   |   (0) comments


AT&T ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) code is transitioning into the Linux Foundation for placement into open source. In this video, Carol Wilson provides an update on the maturation of open source ECOMP and meets with industry leaders from AT&T, Bell Canada, Orange, Linux Foundation and Amdocs to discuss what this means for the ...
LRTV Documentaries
Uber & NASA Collaborate on Flying Car Project

2|16|17   |     |   (0) comments


Is Uber for real? Well, it's hired NASA engineer Mark Moore to lead the project, and he wouldn't come cheap.
Upcoming Live Events
March 21-22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
March 22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
March 22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, 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
Uber's HR Nightmare: Company Investigates Sexual Harassment Claims
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 2/21/2017
Broadband Has a Problem on the Pole
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 2/21/2017
Verizon to Start Fixed 5G Customer Trials in April
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 2/22/2017
Sprint to Go Gigabit Crazy at MWC!
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 2/22/2017
MANO Marriage: ECOMP, Open-O Converge as ONAP
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 2/23/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders chats with Sportlogiq CEO Craig Buntin about sports data analysis.
Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox Technologies, speaks to Steve Saunders, CEO of Light Reading, for an exclusive interview about the 100 GB cable challenge, cybersecurity and much more.
Animals with Phones
No One Likes This Click Here
Take a hint!
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.