cisler on 14 Oct 2000 23:14:38 -0000

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<nettime> Re: spectrum speculation

A few comments on spectrum as a public resource that Mr. Graham did not discuss.

In the early to mid-90's Apple Computer (my former employer) expended a lot of
effort on the various initiatives to have the U.S. FCC free up a lot of
unlicensed spectrum.  Part of this effort was to get a lot of the developers and
those who might use the technology to work on some bandwidth etiquette and to
outline spectrum needs.  It was not exactly like standards working groups, but
it was close.  Big companies would be at the table and say, 'do it our way or we
won't be in the coalition' and the rest knew that the FCC would not see the
coalition as a strong one.  Other companies would throw out ridiculous
requirements and make the group's demand look ridiculous. There were lots of
small developers and firms who had good ideas but not much clout nor the same
amount of time as a large company who might dedicate two or three people to the

At the same time as the FCC was pulling in huge bids on licenses for some
spectrum, we (Apple) were encouraging them to open up more unlicensed spectrum.
Examples include the so-called Industrial Scientific Medical (ISM) bands (a.k.a.
the garbage bands) which are used my many devices: wireless phones, point to
point spread spectrum radios for Internet connectivity and LANs, radio
controlled streetlights, auto theft systems, and even wirelss microphones.
Because many manufacturers want to keep costs low, they have not built in
adequate protection against interference.  One company that has a huge infusion
of capital from Paul Allen and Worldcom is Metricom that has a network of
wireless cells for an Internet service in variouls metro areas.  At a MacWorld
conference in 1997, the use of the wireless mikes in the auditorium caused
interference with the Metricom network set up on the exhibit floor.  A lot of
this wireless spectrum can be used for 'home networking' --control of devices in
the home and garden. Not just a wireless LAN of computers.

During my final years at Apple our group worked on what is called the UNII,
Unlicensed national information infrastructure bands in the 5 Ghz range.
Companies that had paid huge amounts for licenses complained to the FCC that
giving this away for free would lower the value of their licenses.  We argued
that it was like a public beach: you can have proprietary hotel beaches running
down the shoreline and still have some public beaches where anyone can swim, and
this does not devalue the hotel's beachfront. Spectrum was granted.

Now, several years later 5Ghz radios are showing up, even though Apple closed
down its wireless group for a year or two in the late 90's and then revived it
by using older technology and bands (the 2.4 Ghz ISM band) for its Airport
wireless system.  These are quite popular but are susceptible to interference
from wireless phones that use the same band.

There are lots of other details that proponents of these bands disagree on:
power requirements, antenna design, spread spectrum techniques or whether spread
spectrum is all that good in the first place.

However, this story is just one small part of what is going on, and the frenzy
over G3 wireless promises to see the Commission face very heavy pressures in the
coming year.  Chairman Kennard will probably depart no matter who is elected,
and it will be a miracle if someone with a higher regard for the public and the
underserved is appointed.

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