Plenty of Spectrum–Not Enough Integrity

Autonomous Internet
Charles Wyble

There is plenty of radio spectrum laying fallow everywhere for many reasons.  One principal reason is regulatory capture by communications oligopolies/monopolies around the world (artificial scarcity), which leads to a lack of investment in alternative (competitive) infrastructure.  This implies there is also vendor capture.

What has changed just over the past five years is the availability of more powerful chips and components.  Today, systems can be designed and built at competitive prices relative to other access and middle mile infrastructures.  But, it requires R&D and a lot of courage to get it out into the world.  But once out, it can’t be put back in the box.

A new network architecture is required which will include the development of an integrated, scalable protocol – Layer 1 through Layer 3. The current 802.11 MAC/PHY doesn’t scale for this purpose.  There must be 500+ Layer 3 routing algorithms out there, none of which address the core scaling and system issues involving radio physics.   So you need 4-5 of the “right people”, none of which I suspect populate this list.

Spectrum sensing is a system feature.  It’s part of the overall network architecture and system design.  It allows one to avoid licensed spectrum and strong signals.  It’s value comes from the way in which this feature interacts with the whole architecture in keeping emitted energy at a minimum while maintaining robust communications.

It’s nontrivial, but certainly one of the most critical and timely problems to solve in our stage of evolution.  There’s a huge need and demand driven by market factors alone, but it will require boldness to create a new paradigm where everyone can participate at minimal cost.  So yes, access all available spectrum, but it is best done via innovation and in a responsible fashion to enable a new paradigm.  I can’t think of a better way to safeguard free speech and privacy in the Orwellian present.  We use it, or we’ll lose it.

Section II

The deployment strategy is to “pull” from the market to create diverse networks around the world.  In the US, WISPs, university campuses, and small communities are interested in deploying when available.  My plan for initial large deployments would be to take place outside of the US.

When one argues for a new service before the US FCC, it’s always the “cart before the horse” from their perspective.  Before approaching gov’t agencies in the US an existence-proof is required.  E.g., a country in the Caribbean has expressed interest in hosting such a deployment.  And there will be others.  A key criterion for choosing market entry points are ambient political, demand, and economic conditions.   E.g., Africa is a huge greenfield.

Before there was an 802.11 committee, there were very few small innovative companies building unlicensed spread spectrum radios.  This possibility was created via bold action taken by a visionary at the FCC in the early 80’s (Mike Marcus).  The way in which this meme spread throughout the world was it was hand-carried by the early entrepreneurs (like Jim Omura at Cylink) visiting regulatory agencies in many countries, explaining the technology and its benefits.  That’s essentially how unlicensed wireless spread throughout the world, not by regulatory or state edict, although the latter is also a viable means.

Do countries exist that are interested in such a value proposition?  Yes.  Brazil is an example of a large country trying to meet the communications infrastructure needs of a diverse population for the purpose of distributing healthcare, education, and gov’t services.  The emerging markets tends to look like Brazil, not the US.

I’ve developed wireless networks in dozens of countries and am confident this approach will work.  E.g., think of what happens to a Caribbean country’s communications infrastructure every time a hurricane blows through.  I was in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) five years after hurricane Andrew and the telephone poles still looked like broken toothpicks.  There are compelling socioeconomic and political benefits.  Spectrum use today, ultimately, is about politics.  Technology, properly built and positioned, is a powerful catalyst for change in this respect.

The technology platform will operate in licensed, licensed-lite, or unlicensed spectrum, as well as in unused spectrum.  IOW, the equipment could be homologated in various countries for operation under disparate licensing terms.  Flexibility is built-in to finesse the regulatory walled gardens and outflank the stove-pipe alternatives.

But unlike WiFi, which the cellcos are absorbing within their billing and service ecosystem, it empowers people to build their own networks that will scale as alternative infrastructure.  It operates outside the intellectual and cultural imperatives driven by advertising and myth.  An example might be the way that PGP spread from a single server in Finland, but this includes a hardware platform.  It can be manufactured and distributed from dozens of places.

I don’t want to frighten anyone with this but my knowledgeable friends in this industry have responded with three general answers to your question:

1)  When successful they will kill you.
2)  They will attempt to buy it out.
3)  They will adapt it and attempt to absorb it, and cut a deal.

Keep in mind that the U-NII band began from an idea, of which I happened to be a part of at the time.  It was adulterated by the oligopoly but it’s a case in point.

The communications markets worldwide share similar characteristics of need, motivation, economics, while political conditions vary greatly.  The strategy I propose employs the Bucky Fuller wisdom of not confronting the oligopoly directly, but building a better model to which it will be compelled to gravitate. However, the US is the last place in the world to confront the communications oligopoly – they own Congress.  A strategy of finesse is better in some markets –  from the edges by the people.  The Jeffersonian vision at work in our communities.   I think the timing is right.

The cellcos are so far behind the Internet power curve they won’t have a choice.  They are playing the current “scarcity” hand to tie-up spectrum, set pricing floors, employ data caps, developing IP Multimedia Subsystem (provision services from the core to kill over-the-top apps), etc.  I believe that people everywhere will adapt to the new model.  In the US, the astute members of the WISP community know that they’re future is pretty dismal without it.  They will deploy it as a “community phenomenon” and there are about 3,000 of them.  Some won’t need it, but most will.

Finally, the huge problem everywhere is the “middle mile.”  While fiber backbones exist nearly everywhere, access and pricing are a communications oligopoly affair.  In the US, it’s called “special access” and represents the single largest network cost of most WISPs.  Even now the US oligopoly is arguing before the FCC that white spaces spectrum should be allocated for pt-pt links to enable bandwidth to their cell sites.  A scalable middle mile wireless infrastructure doesn’t exist but it’s required to have a useful, competitive infrastructure alternative.

It’s not for the feint of heart but I believe it can work on multiple levels while providing open access to people everywhere in the world.  It’s core strength lay in its value proposition to the people, which is why it will succeed.  They just need the tools.


Phi Beta Iota: Integrity is about holistic honest analytics in support of intelligent design.  Spectrum is a mess today for various reasons, including complete irresponsibility on the part of many governments and vendors with respect to emissions discipline and design, as well as laziness associated with the power to control spectrum rather than develop spectrum.   The public health and transportation and energy industries, among others, have been destroyed by privatization combined with unintelligent and unethical government “regulation” that favors the complexes over the public.  Open Spectrum is, with Open Software and Open Intelligence, the tri-fecta of dignity, freedom, and prosperity for all.