Kevin Werbach has just posted an extremely thought provoking paper/treatise/plea about a vision for ubiquitous wireless broadband in the United States, based on a concept he calls the Open Spectrum. The basic concept is that rather than having a structured, controlled and paid licensing for our airwaves, that the US government open up a wider range of frequencies to unlicensed traffic. Using the dramatic and explosive success of 802.11 and other 2.4Ghz applications as examples, he articulates clearly how and why an open approach could result in a much more dramatic, competitive, innovative and lower-cost infrastructure for broadband wireless.
One really notable thing for me about his piece is how much it reminds me of the similar debates and discussions that surrounded the commercialization of the Internet, and Internet access in the early 1990s. In 1991 and 1992, Lotus founder and chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mitch Kapor, was out driving what he called the "Open Road" agenda for the commercialization of the Internet. Mitch's work had a huge influence on my views for how and why the Internet would evolve as a platform, despite government and industry efforts to build a separate, highly integrated, tightly controlled "information superhighway".
For several years, Mitch lobbied, pursuaded and educated people on how the basic research and education network that was the Internet -- dubbed NREN at the time -- could become an incredible commercial platform. Within a couple of years, a half-dozen IP network suppliers were given the right to sell commercial Internet access, including allowing other service providers to sub-license/distribute access to their networks. The rest is history.
The parallels between the Open Road and the Open Spectrum are striking. We're in a situation where the government and industry are largely missing the boat, ignoring fundamental dynamics in the highly decentralized, entreprenurial world of computing and the Internet. The Open Road paved the way for tens of thousands of small, medium and large businesses to build on a public network, one that was largely unregulated, with incredible opportunities for continuous innovation. We got the Internet.
The Open Spectrum today is the world of 802.11 and WiFi, in contrast to the tightly controlled world of digital airwaves that billions are being thrown at, with small numbers of owners, and grand plans for integrated, end-to-end coverage and services. With or without the government and large industry support, the WiFi industry will explode and grow just as the early Internet access industry did. A little nudge or push in the right direction --- just what Kevin is recommending --- could go a long way to making that happen in a richer, faster way.
Kudos to Kevin for his thoughtful and highly relevant work here.