Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wireless plans
Obama's Unbelievable But True Wireless Plans
Wednesday, 24 December 2008 03:25

Doubling available spectrum is practical and top of agenda for Obama's tech people.  Changes considered "unthinkable" by most of D.C. actually will be accepted as obvious common sense soon. Giving a particular use exclusive control creates a monopoly, justified because there was no alternative. Technology has changed. Monopolies can mostly be thrown away, with some sensible rules of the road enforced by today's chips. They want to raise U.S. policy once again to the most advanced in the world, and getting rid of most wireless limits is pretty much agreed.  They are busy right now trying to head off the tens of billions in waste and ripoff in the current stimulus plans, possibly a hopeless struggle but worth the effort. The goal is to "create" as much spectrum as practical, taking advantage of improved technology and leadership that understands the issues.

Decisions will probably wait until after the team is in place and organized, but here are some ideas under discussion:

1) 95% of spectrum is typically unused at any given time and location. There is no spectrum shortage today, if only obsolete practices where eliminated. I learned this from Dave Farber, who a decade ago was "testing the air" and showing everyone that there was no signal in most bands, even in major cities.  This is what deregulation should be about: getting bad rules out of the way, such as unnecessary restrictions on what can be done with wireless connections. In the last seven years, evidence spectrum can be used much more intensively has convinced the FCC Technical Advisory Committee and nearly every expert not in the sway of D.C. lobbyists.

2) The first solution: sharing spectrum to get maximum use. In the 1930's, when the rules were laid out for radio, receivers were primitive, interference rejection almost non-existent, transmitters couldn't be precisely tuned, and the technology to share spectrum not even a dream. In the last decade, a billion cell phone users have conclusively demonstrated sharing is possible; almost all wireless networks massively reuse the same frequency. WiFi is a second demonstration, with hundreds od millions using "unlicensed" spectrum fairly effectively. Not all the problems are solved, but ir works and the benefits are far greater than the (relatively few) problems that arise.  Most can be controlled by setting strict parameters for what chips are allowed, rather than active (and generally feeble) enforcement. Very few chips get into widespread use, so it's practical to test each rigorous for effectively avoiding serious interference. I'm writing this on a Mac over WiFi; problems are very few.

Kevin Werbach, on the Obama FCC transition team, has been proselytizing about the potential since 2001, crediting work last century by Columbia's Eli Noam.

3) Cell phones and other transmitters are now capable of testing a possible frequency and (reasonably accurately) determining whether it's in use. If it's in use, they try a different frequency. This is called "cognitive radio," "spectrum sensing," "software defined radio"and various other geeky names. Basically, it's about finding whatever is available and putting it to use. This should effectively make twice as much spectrum available, possibly even five times as much. (Article to come: Getting out of the way: How Cognitive Radio Changes the Game.)

4) The first rule changes from "absolutely no interference" to "minimal harm." The first regulatory breakthrough was "ultra wideband," which was supported by Mike Powell and Robert Pepper at the FCC. Low power transceivers can use up to 500 megahertz of spectrum, effectively carrying several hundred megabits from a controller to an HD TV,  etc.  As a practical matter, there's minimal interference on the (much higher power) primary signal. Similarly, TV and radio receivers today can reject low levels of interference, allowing closer allocation of TV transmitters, etc.  Instead of saying "No interference is allowed, ever," sharing is allowed if it doesn't create major problems for others.

Rural areas will be particularly aided, because they have more spectrum "allocated" but not actually used. In more than half the state of Vermont's land area, at least four wireless carriers control the spectrum but aren't using it. That's a great opportunity for some local entrenpreneur to provide service where Verizon and AT&T just aren't interested.

5) The second rule may be "use it or lose it," common in many other countries. France has threatened to cancel Iliad's license if Xavier Neil doesn't rapidly build the promised 3.5 megahertz WiMax network promised; several third and fourth 3G licenses have been reclaimed because the networks weren't built, with the hope the spectrum can be offered to a company which will build. I have a friend with 700 MHz spectrum across an entire state who hasn't done anything with it for almost a decade. It  has mountainous terrain with low population density, and he couldn't see a profitable way to compete with Verizon and AT&T's offerings in the major cities. Verizon bought the "C" block across the U.S. in the 2007 aucion, although it doesn't need the spectrum for years. The consensus was they spent $4.5B primarily to keep out a possible competitor.

"Use it or lose it" is also particularly potent in rural areas, where carriers have done less buildout.

6) Require full deployment for ten year license renewals. After ten years to recover the original investment, it's perfectly reasonablw to expect continued investment in the second ten years. Most U.S. spectrum licenses sold make clear the FCC has the absolute authority to set terms for the renewal license. The bidding documents not only make that clear, they even provide details on the process the FCC must use for public comment on the changed rules, etc.

This is by far the best way to get better coverage in rural areas and higher speeds everywhere, because it costs the taxpayer absolutely nothing. Most of the spectrum was given for free but now is valued in the billions, about $50B worth on the balance sheet of the Bells. Verizon would be have to be stupid not to accept whatever renewal terms are set. They aren't stupid. In this way, over 5-8 years the country can receive any reasonable deployment level or speed/quality desired, without stimulus or any other spending. (Note the term reasonable. It is right for the commission to require buildout, and they shouldn't demand unrealistic goals.)

7) Increase  competition by limiting the access of incumbents to any new spectrum. Canada reserved half the recently concluded auction spectrum for new entrants, and will likely see two or three new competitors that way. They broke records in what they received. Even if keeping out incumbents results in lower totals (unproven and probably unlikely,) consumers will more than make up the difference in lower prices.

8) Increase competition by reducing all costs involved in a wireless network. India requires any wireless company building a tower to share it with 3 competitors (in some regions.) This results in two or three companies competing for customers. Similarly, the backhaul costs from the tower can be brought down by sensible rules on pricing. Japan's broadband competition is possibly the most competitive in the world, with prices/speeds much better than the U.S. Requiring the incumbent to provide fiber backhaul at a fair price was crucial. Verizon and AT&T control over 70% of the backhaul in the U.S., giving them a crucial advantage over everyone else, especially as speeds increase and more backhaul is required. (An interim step would be to eliminate the "cell tower exclusion" and make copper pairs available at standard rates.)

9) Increase effecive spectrum by requiring more efficient use of existing spectrum. It;s a cliche that "you can't manufacture more spectrum," but a total fallacy.  3G technologies use half the bandwidth for each voice call, meaning AT&T could double the voice capacity on exsting spectrum by moving everyone to 3G in the next few years. Europe is actively putting this to work, calling it re-farming. Another way to reduce spectrum required is building more cell sites.  Sharing tower costs (directly or through an independent tower company) makes that cheaper. So would eliminating the typical 800% markup on T-1 backhaul, as above. Techniques like that allow the incumbents to meet their needs without needing more spectrum, freeing spectrum for other uses.

Death of the Telcos | 
Death of the Telcos

Monday, 27 April 2009 17:15

“We are a wireless company,” Randall Stephenson's first major public comment as AT&T CEO. He decided in 2003 to let the copper phone network slowly die.

Repeat: Randall in 2003 decided to let the copper phone network slowly die. AT&T is seriously disinvesting from the landline business, after cutting capital spending in half. I know that's hard to believe, but his cold equations are clear. Landline decline is inevitable, Randall now tells the WSJ, and there’s no point trying to fight it. “You could try to hold back the tide,” he said, “but that’s a very frustrating proposition. Or you could say, let’s get ahead of the market, let’s get ahead of the mobility curve. We have 77 million wireless customers and 30 million consumer phone lines. Which customer base would you rather work from?” He's losing 3M customers a year, almost ten percent of what's left.

Eircom is talking about not being able to pay its debts. Windstream went from junk to junker. Hawaiian Tel is bankrupt, and Fairpoint close. Nearly all the other U.S. RLECs fail without a wildly excessive subsidy. No copper network is unaffected, and not all are following Verizon's upgrade path.  I am not saying AT&T is going broke - the DSL and wireless part of the business has been increasing profits. I'm talking the PSTN - the public switched telephone network. Letting the phone network die may or may not be the right choice for the company profits. We won't know until we see the results of widescale DOCSIS 3.0 deployments in 2010-2012. Most of the industry thinks Verizon is right, and AT&T will be clobbered because cablecos have some great technology coming. Saul Hansell at the NY Times calls AT&T's choice "harvest mode" and anyone who cares about the U.S. economy will be unhappy. It's incredibly cold-blooded to let a $50B/year and 50,000 jobs business go away, but Randall is paid $20M to make tough decisions.

This means, of course, that any "incentives" to invest or “broadband stimulus” will simply be collected from the government and passed out the other door to shareholders. So will most of the money from any price increases allowed or favorable changes in ICC and USF. "Facilities-based" wireline competition cannot be good policy, because no one will build a new network in a declining industry. Wireless has speed limits that make it only a partial substitute.

The Pony Express was the best way to send a message to California until the telegraph came in 1861. It died almost immediately, but the death of wireline phones will take 10-20 years. People have bonded with mobile phones, unwilling even to walk across the room to make a call. The mobile is as much a friend as the person calling. Subscribers are dropping even at mighty China Telecom. The hundreds of million Chinese unconnected will go mobile. Most telephone companies in the west will lose half their lines in the next decade if present trends continue. (part one)

The $Billion Wireless Study No One Knows | The $Billion Wireless Study No One Knows | 29 March 2009

The House stimulus bill included $B for wireless, a major surprise because most of the public advocates where thinking the money would go for fiber and landline subsidies. One key reason is that a CTIA study on "ubiquitous 3G wireless" was circulated around the transition team, along with a comment that spending perhaps a quarter of the stimulus money on wireless towers would be by far the most effective use of the money. 


The world is going mobile, so ensuring wireless everywhere is good public policy. A wireless build is much cheaper and faster than rural fiber/coax, and is a natural complement. I believe 50+ meg to every home is worthwhile while LTE and WiMAX speeds will typically be 2-10 meg. We need both.

Stimulus money is one way to make this happen, but the FCC's Adelstein has a proposal that doesn't require public money:"Use It Or Lose It" wireless licensing. By far the least expensive and most sensible way to get near universal service with voice and megabit wireless and a pretty obvious step forward. When wireless licenses come up for renewal, require that the operator actually is servicing the territory. Perhaps require 92% population coverage for the first renewal, about the current U.S. average. Raise that to 98% coverage for the second renewal, with very limited exceptions. Since U.S. wireless licenses are typically 10 years and most territories have several, in a few years 98+% would be covered without a penny of government subsidy. 

The “People's Cellphone” | 15 May 2009

Hugo Chavez and his nationalized CANTV are ecstatic about the immediate sellout of the new $15 phone with camera, MP3, and much more. It is “light, beautiful, good and cheap.” With a serious inflation problem hurting Chavez's base among the poor, the cheap cellphone is a welcome symbol of a success for the Bolivarian Revolution. Hugo has teamed with China's ZTE for a dramatic symbol of what Venezuela can do after pushing out Verizon.

“This telephone will be the biggest seller not only in Venezuela but the world. Whoever doesn't have a Vergatario is nothing. ... It is science and technology at the service of the people not the elites ... the day will arrive when we manufacture phones for Cuba and Latin America.” (Google translation)

Two years ago Chavez pushed Verizon and the Mexicans out of CANTV, creating an international incident. U.S. folks swore the Venezuelans couldn't run a phone company, so it became a point of pride for Chavez to do well. Profits at CANTV and Mo are up, prices down, market share increasing, and Venezuela is one of the few countries in the world with major growth in landlines. History will tell us whether that's a side effect of the oil boom, smart policy, good management or a mirage. Authoritarian states can do well – China, Malaysia, Singapore – so the question of government form and economic growth is unanswered.

I've no direct data, but $15 is so low I suspect there is some subsidy along the way. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ofcom report - Licence Exempt Spectrum Bands

Estimating the Utilisation of Key Licence Exempt Spectrum Bands (here )

There is anecdotal information and discussion that WiFi systems are highly congested in cities and are failing to work in certain locations. We commissioned the design of a novel monitoring system based on smartphone devices with GPS and WiFi capabilities. These were then carried around city centres, including into a number of buildings such as railway stations, where they monitored key beacon signals transmitted from WiFi networks and measured performance parameters. A test network was also built in the laboratory to try to replicate the measurements made.



A survey of IEEE 802.11b/g 'WiFi' usage has been carried out at various urban locations in

the UK. This has revealed a wide variety of problems encountered by users, many of which

are due to causes other than spectrum issues. These include problems with the wired

Internet and device configuration errors.

Where the users' problems are spectrum-related they tend to be due to interference between

devices in the 2.4 GHz ISM band rather than congestion, as was initially believed. (...) 


Ofcom today published three independent reports on spectrum use, availability and interference. The reports can be found here:


·               Capture of Spectrum Utilisation Information using Moving Vehicles:

·               Estimating the Utilisation of Key Licence-Exempt Spectrum Bands:

·               Wide-range propagation model:

Monday, May 04, 2009

A “Capability Brown” of spectrum

A Note on Spectrum Management Policy

Property and Commons models? Or, Garden Design.

Forget the "open spectrum" or "spectrum commons" Blue Skies thinking. Ofcom's philosophy remains firmly planted in the ground of the market-place. The sanctity of the commercial real- estate model. Well, it's more a landed Country Estate really. 

Consider this colourful proposal for a "Capability Brown" broker for spectrum in the market place; in response to 3 years of failure for "substantial spectrum trading" to materialize. Seems we need a "Lions of Longleat" factor to stimulate that spectrum trading? 

Ofcom Spectrum Advisory Board. Annual Report 2007 - 2008 [ here x

(...)  In addition, a theme underlying much of OSAB’s discussion during the year was whether there was more that could be done to promote a market in spectrum and to stimulate innovation and investment. Here OSAB stressed the possible need for a “Capability Brown” of spectrum – intermediaries or brokers who could show stakeholders the potential for spectrum they might acquire through auction or in the marketplace in the same way that the landscape gardener Capability Brown was able to show landowners the potential for improvement in their gardens.


(...)  Item 3: OSAB Annual Workshop and meeting with the Ofcom board 
A note of the OSAB Annual Workshop had been circulated with the agenda papers.   
The Chairman, Phillipa Marks, Simon Saunders and Peter Swann had attended the November meeting of the Ofcom Board to report on the work carried out by OSAB over the last six months and to address the question why, after a period of  three years, there was still no substantial spectrum trading.   This had also been a subject considered at the Annual Workshop amongst which the following had been identified:  
  • a need for a possible change in the business model 
  • the possibilities for involvement of intermediaries such as brokers, band managers or ‘Capability Browns’ to show businesses the potential uses for spectrum 
  • possible problems with public sector rules resulting in inefficient spending
  • In Conversation: John Cale

    Image source X



    Cale to represent art of Wales | Mark Brown, arts correspondent | The Guardian, Friday 12 December 2008

    He is better known as a founder of the Velvet Underground, and his Glastonbury performance this summer was described as "genuinely unhinged". Yesterday it was announced that John Cale will represent Wales at the most important showcase of contemporary art, the Venice Biennale.

    Cale was born in the Carmarthenshire mining village of Garnant and after studying music at Goldsmiths College he travelled to New York, where he founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed. He went on to collaborate with artists such as Patti Smith, the Stooges and Happy Mondays, as well as having a solo career.

    Cale said he was "surprised and honoured" to be invited to represent Wales. He added, intriguingly: "It offers an occasion to address certain pernicious issues in my background that had lain dormant for so long. There are certain experiences uniquely suited to the exorcism of mixed media and I am grateful for this opportunity to address them."

    Cale's work will be a collaboration with artists, film-makers and poets. Communication and Cale's relationship with the Welsh language would be at the work's centre, the Arts Council of Wales said.

    Alun Ffred Jones, heritage minister in the Welsh assembly, said: "John Cale is a bard in the widest sense - an artistic craftsman, whose work is firmly rooted in Wales's cultural history."



    John Cale: interview at the National Gallery, London May 15th | Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009 4:27 PM

    John Cale will be interviewed at the National Gallery, London on the 15 May 2009 as part of the Museums at Night weekend about his installation for the Venice Biennale.

    In Conversation: John Cale | Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale is representing Wales at this year's Venice Biennale, where he will be showing a much-anticipated mixed-media installation. In this informal conversation, he will talk about his work for Venice and discuss the connections between art and music. With Colin Wiggins. (...)

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