May 2010 marks the 25 th anniversary of the American communications regulator the FCC's ruling to allow no-licence access to the radio spectrum for spread-spectrum radio devices for civil and commercial use.
Far from a notable public event at the time, this new regulatory arrangement opened the door for a succession of wireless technology innovations of global impact in subsequent decades: from mobile telecoms (CDMA & 3G cellular systems), to Wi-Fi wireless Internet access (enabling WLANs wireless local area networks) and Bluetooth short range connectivity between wireless devices (creating PANs personal area networks).
Some links to highlight the origins of Wi-Fi, regulatory issues, and current agendas (2010)
"From lab to household: 25 Years of WiFi," by Peggy Albright, Telecom TV.
Michael J. Marcus, Early Civil Spread Spectrum History.
Michael J. Marcus, Marcus Spectrum Solutions LLC |Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: The Path from Carter and Reagan-era Faith in Deregulation to Widespread Products Impacting Our World | August 2009, INFO Volume 11, Issue 5 (p. 19-35).
Vic Hayes and Wolter Lemstra, Department of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands |Unlicensed: The Case of Wi-Fi | August 2009, INFO Volume 11, Issue 5 (p. 57-71).
Remarks of Michael K. Powell (Chair, FCC) at the Silicon Flatirons Telecommunications Program, University of Colorado at Boulder: “BROADBAND MIGRATION III: NEW DIRECTIONS IN WIRELESS POLICY” (Oct, 2002).
Martin Cave et al, Essentials of Modern Spectrum Management (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
The 2010 IEEE Communication Theory Workshop, Mexico (May 2010).
11th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ADVANCED RADIO TECHNOLOGIES ISART (& NTIA), Spectrum Sharing Technologies, Boulder, Colorado USA (July 2010)
Silicon Flatirons: A Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, Wireless Broadband: Markets, Models and Spectrum(Sept 2010).
The Open Spectrum Foundation's website provides a daily news feed of wireless technology, market and policy developments.
Open Spectrum Alliance tracks the EU spectrum policy agenda.
Wi-Fi has made a major contribution to making ubiquitous communications a reality:
- In 1985 the FCC ruling allowed no-licence access to the radio spectrum for spread-spectrum radio devices for civil and commercial use in the so-called ISM bands ( - 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands) previously earmarked for Industrial, Scientific and Medical use and with no guarantees against interference. Following the formation of industry body the Wi-Fi Alliance (WECA) in 1999, the new "Wi-Fi" wireless Internet access technology (in the first instance, through the IEEE 802.11b standard which appeared on the market in early 2000) experienced phenomenal growth as a mass communications medium once regulatory clearance and global standards allowed end-user devices to be taken to market.
- In the process the myths of spectrum intereference and of the "tragedy of the commons" were belied by mass adoption, and the fact that the technology was fitter for purpose than anyone had really anticipated.
- Nowadays Wi-Fi capability is simply assumed as a given for any personal lap-top computer (and now the smart phone); as Wi-Fi is embedded in any new lap-top at effectively zero cost to the end user.
Beyond its initial intention as a means of short-range communications within buildings, Wi-Fi has even helped re-shape our wider social spaces. Wi-Fi was helped to empower whole communities that found themselves on the wrong side of the "digital divide":
- Wi-Fi was promoted as a community "first mile" (as opposed to what the telco's call the "last mile" of the network) broadband solution in "remote and rural areas", where there was market failure and the telcos claimed that broadband Internet provision was uneconomic.
- Wireless ISP's and community wireless networks thrived in rural regions that were written-off by the telcos.
- And the same pattern of telco neglect saw the emergence of municipally supported wireless Internet networks.
Wi-Fi has helped to drive the revolution at the edge of the network, that serves the needs and unleashes the potential of the user:
- Above all Wi-Fi has helped to empower the end-user through access to the Internet and it's new tools for personal communications, creative expression, productivity & wealth creation.
- This communications revolution is displacing the traditional telco-centric model of artificial scarcity and pay-per-use,
- towards a new communications ecology of abundance in which the Internet is evolving towards a free and open access medium, through which new commercial value-added services are accessed.
May 2006 | Michael Marcus | Spectrum Issues
"Some basic laws of spectrum economics, based on my twenty years of experience at the FCC. | Thus classical spectrum management policy is a balance between the haves and have nots. The haves generally control the national regulatory agencies, the Ofcoms of the world. And the have nots don't. And what you see are battles between the haves and have nots. And nobody seems to care about GDP. | (...) Nobody needs spectrum. It's a lie to say "I need spectrum". People need communications capacity, which is a function of both spectrum and technology"
May 2006 | Peter Cochrane | Seamless Freedom: The Wireless Revolution
"The need for regulation goes from 100% regulated and controlled - otherwise you are going to run into all kinds of interference problems- to an era where 'heh! has the regulator got a job any more?' "
Jan 2004 | Dewayne Hendricks | Towards Open Spectrum: Locating Wireless Technology, Regulation and History
Leading US open spectrum advocate Dewayne Hendricks' keynote presentation to the ABC2 Conference Revolution at the Edge: Broadband Networks and Innovation (Cisco, EMEA Headquarters, Middlesex, England).
"We are undergoing a paradigm shift from the property regimen to the new commons world and beyond (...) in which we may turn the regulatory authority over to the device itself"
May 2002 | Connecting Keokuk | Wireless Broadband Case Study
A video case study of a succesful wireless ISP in rural Iowa, USA. Interlink LC's community approach to broadband Internet provision highlights the use of licence-exempt 802.11 wireless technology as a first mile broadband solution for remote and rural areas.
"If you aint got broadband, then you're just outta luck" (The architect).
March 2001 | Dave Hughes | A wireless vision for Wales
A video documenting John Wilson's March 2001 visit to American grassroots telecoms activist and no-licence wireless pioneer Dave Hughes, Colorado, USA.
Dave Hughes' wireless vision for Wales has a universal currency in its advocacy of no-licence wireless technologies as a "first mile" broadband solution for remote and rural regions, with reference to the community wireless networks model.
- The March 2001 video of Dave Hughes' advocacy of no-licence wireless - and the related video Connecting Keokuk - was used as a lobbying tool to influence government and regulatory policy in the UK: arguing from the regulatory precedent of the USA for the opening up to no-licence (- or "license exempt", in UK discourse) access of the 2.4 GHz band, and subsequently the 5.8 GHz band (- eventually resolved as "light-licensing" in UK discourse) which was designated in explicit public interest terms in the USA as the UNII band - the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure band (: see here and here). These two videos were also used to promote grassroots community wireless networking in Wales and across the UK.
- Dave Hughes was also involved in locating the Connecting Keokuk case study, as a means of engaging the wireless policy debate with a successful demonstration project for a community wireless network (which in the case of Interlink's Keokuk network was based upon a public and private partnerships approach to solve the local and regional broadband deficit)
- The March 2001 video of Dave Hughes' advocacy of no-licence wireless was noted in Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (2002), which has a full chapter covering the wireless activism of Dave Hughes (and Dewayne Hendricks): seeChapter 6, Wireless Quilts, Tonga, Mongolia, the Rez and Wales: The New Electronic Frontiers, pp 144-152 (read chapter overview here). See the Smart Mobs website for ongoing discussion.