Economic Value of Unlicensed Spectrum

by on September 24, 2009 · 9 comments

Over at his always-informative Spectrum Blog, wireless guru Michael Marcus brings to my attention a new report that will definitely be of interest to everyone here about “The Economic Value Generated by Current and Future Allocations of Unlicensed Spectrum.”  It was written by Rich Thanki of Perspective Associates, a UK consulting firm. I haven’t had time to finish the whole thing yet, but it basically lays out the argument for opening up more spectrum, especially “white spaces,” to unlicensed use.

Anyway, Mike Marcus has an much better write-up of the report than I could ever do, so head over there to check out his discussion.  One important thing that Mike stresses is the importance of technical flexibility:

But the key issue here is not the presence or absence of a license, the key issue is deregulation. A major reason why unlicensed networks have been so innovative is that the descendants of the FCC Docket 81-413 rulemaking, e.g. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee have been in spectrum bands with great technical flexibility… If you overregulate unlicensed systems, they can stagnate just as much as licensed one often do.

I think that is an important insight and essential lesson that we should always keep in mind when it comes to spectrum policy, regardless of whether we talking about licensed or unlicensed spectrum.  Although I’ve always been a bit torn about how much spectrum should be allocated on an unlicensed (or “commons”) basis versus auctioned (property rights model), as Marcus suggests, flexibility is crucial in either case.   In all the heated catfights over licensed and unlicensed spectrum, that point sometimes gets overlooked.

  • Jim Sullivan

    Spectrum is similar to real estate. It can be shared or owned. The best and highest use may be realized from either form. Regulation is necessary because unlike real estate, spectrum reuse brings interference. Rules keep these problems to a minimum.

    Microwave ovens and Wi-Fi share the same spectrum. Wi-Fi signals lose to the oven's interference. This is unlicensed sharing.

    Military radar and ham radio share licensed spectrum. When the Air Force asserted its higher use of the spectrum, the hams accommodated by shutting down or moving in frequency.

  • brettglass

    This paper is deeply flawed in that it assumes a dichotomy: unlicensed spectrum or exclusively licensed spectrum. It makes no mention of the possibility of “lightly licensed” spectrum, which — if cognitive radio technology is employed — can avoid the “tragedy of the commons” which is being seen on unlicensed bands (especially 900 MHz). See my slides at http://www.brettglass.com/CR/index.html.

  • brettglass

    This paper is deeply flawed in that it assumes a dichotomy: unlicensed spectrum or exclusively licensed spectrum. It makes no mention of the possibility of “lightly licensed” spectrum, which — if cognitive radio technology is employed — can avoid the “tragedy of the commons” which is being seen on unlicensed bands (especially 900 MHz). See my slides at http://www.brettglass.com/CR/index.html.

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