Building a Wireless Superhighway to Drive Economic Recovery

Michael Vizard

One thing that holds back innovation in both the mobile computing space specifically and the machine-to-machine area in general is that it’s hard to imagine a world where wireless bandwidth isn’t difficult to come by. As a result, the types of applications that can be developed are being limited by the amount of bandwidth available because there’s no such thing as continuous Wi-Fi access.

While that’s the reality we currently live in, the reason this situation exists has more to do with outdated government polices than actual technology. The good news is that wheels are in motion to change that reality, beginning hopefully in the next three years. In terms of the pace at which Washington moves to address regulatory issues, that’s lightning fast, so for safety sake you might want to tack on a couple of years to that time.

But what’s important about this now, says Mark Gorenberg, a managing director at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, is that it’s a clear “call to arms for innovation” in the wireless networking space. In about three years, Gorenberg says we should expect to see the fruits of a change in wireless spectrum policies that should make 1,000 times more wireless networking capacity available, much of which currently sits idle most of the time.

Speaking at the recent ITEXPO West conference, Gorenberg says the time it should take to create a wireless spectrum super highway can be sharply reduced by getting government agencies to share spectrum with commercial entities. Otherwise, it will take eight years or more to clear out wireless spectrum that is currently being used by those agencies, which Gorenberg notes would cost thousands of jobs by slowing innovation in a space that will generate trillions of dollars in revenue.

Approaches for sharing that spectrum were outlined in a plan devised by The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that was recently partially endorsed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Gorenberg, who is a member of PCAST, say the plan calls for freeing up 1,000 MHz of wireless spectrum, making greater use of TV white space, developing more efficient cellular technologies for transferring data and investing in integrating wireless networks with wired networks that can offload a lot of the traffic on wireless networks.

The end result, says Gorenberg, should be a new cycle of innovation, an example of which is a $5 million offer from Verizon to invest in helping the Department of Defense research better ways to share wireless spectrum.

Just as investments in processors are key to the growth of the IT industry, wireless spectrum has become a critical engine for economic growth. At a time when presidential candidates are arguing about who can create more jobs to drive that economic growth, it would seem that highlighting the need for plans to build a wireless superhighway should be playing a more prominent role in the economic recovery plans being put forth by both parties. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like either candidate has really got that message just yet.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 10, 2012 7:23 AM Peter Rysavy Peter Rysavy  says:
The notion that a 1,000 times more network capacity will suddenly and instantly appear is deeply misleading. I am a wireless engineer who has been studying and publishing on spectrum requirements and capacity challenges. While the concept of spectrum sharing has merit, it is a far more complex undertaking than many people realize. I discuss this in a report that I issued earlier this year, "Spectrum Sharing - The Promise and The Reality." Development challenges include entirely new spectrum coordination systems, modifying primary and secondary systems to integrate with the new sharing architectures, and developing infrastructure and devices to implement the sharing. Although spectrum sharing may result in more efficient use of spectrum in the long term for specific scenarios and specific bands, it is by no means a short-term solution to our current spectrum crunch. Government and industry need to pursue all options, including newer technologies (such as LTE-Advanced and heterogeneous networks with small cells), offload, more cell sites, spectrum sharing for the long term, and especially spectrum reassignment following the plans that the FCC already has in motion. Reply

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