In December, 2014, C-Span’s Communicator Series highlighted Marty’s views and analysis on “spectrum issues and the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies to provide spectrum for the growing needs of mobile phone service providers.” C-Span hosts these half-hour discussions “with the leaders who shape our digital future.” As a member of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, Marty has much to say on the subject of spectrum. Listen in on the full interview.
I was fortunate enough to hear an amazing speech by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel at the Wi-Fi Forward meeting only a few months ago. It was unusual for a commissioner to so concisely explain, in common sense terms, how the wide variety of wireless communications users creates a need for different technologies and different allocations as the FCC manages the radio frequency spectrum. The Commissioner pointed out, among other things, that the various spectrum candidates for new allocation of unlicensed spectrum have varying needs and purposes, and many different applications. She also made it clear that there is a role, in spectrum allocation, for both licensed and unlicensed use of the radio frequency spectrum.
I strongly support these views as well as other points that she made. Opening up spectrum for unlicensed use will offer an opportunity for enhanced public value, but only if there is innovation that increases capacity of wireless spectrum and lowers the cost to the public of deployment and service costs.
The 802.11 standard has served us well, but it was not designed for large numbers of contending users. It is very inefficient in the way that it uses spectrum. It makes up for some of this inefficiency by limiting power output so that the spectrum is reused geographically, but the collision avoidance approach used in 802.11 is terribly inefficient. When even relatively small numbers of users try to operate in one band, an increasing number of collisions occur that require an increasing number of re-transmissions. This chews up unacceptable amounts of spectrum.
802.11 can be fixed, and in a backward compatible way. There are techniques available TODAY that could use any new spectrum in a far more effective and that could be brought to market in a time frame compatible with the FCC’s regulatory efforts. These techniques include, but are not limited to:
1) More organized sharing and handling of collision avoidance,
2) smart antenna techniques – spatial processing and interference mitigation – that increase capacity and reduce cost, and
3) meshed networking techniques that, while somewhat reducing spectral efficiency, reduce backhaul costs.
Further, there is no one system solution that is optimum for every class of user. Given the right opportunity and stimulus for innovation, another powerful form of efficiency is achieved by virtue of matching categories of user requirements to technical attributes like range, building penetration, reliability, coverage, and speed, as well as social priority of different categories. It may be appropriate to allocate separate bands of spectrum for different applications and standards.
What would I do if I was the FCC?
I would make new spectrum allocations contingent upon industry proposals for system approaches that are responsive to the burgeoning need for more bandwidth at lower cost. An allocation that uses spectrum in the same old way is wrong. Spectrum efficient technology is continually advancing and the FCC, as the manager of the publically owned spectrum, should require periodic adoption of such advancements.
I would task industry advisory groups to work with the FCC to establish technical standards for spectral efficiency and perhaps even for user cost.
I would encourage trials, perhaps even competitive ones, that offer real-world proof of performance of system candidates.
I would reach out to impartial organizations like the National Academies, the IEEE, and the WWRF to create a periodically updated National Spectrum Technology Roadmap, to provide decision makers at the FCC and Congress with a multigenerational baseline for their decision making and stimulus of innovation.
I would undertake the enormous task of using the National Roadmap to solve the looming problem of effectuating the availability of very low cost bandwidth for essential services.
I look forward to seeing what dynamic and visionary leaders like Jessica Rosenworcel will do at the FCC to execute on some of my suggestions. After all, these suggestions are just common sense.
From Spectrum efficiency, to the development of the portable cellular phone, to the coming revolutions in mobile technology, to data over cellular and beyond, Marty chatted with Leo LaPorte on ‘This Week in Tech,’ the #1 ranked technology podcast. See the full interview here.
SNL Kagen sat down with Marty and other wireless industry experts to delve into the issue of spectrum usage. Marty says the only answer to the growing challenge of spectrum shortage is in the development of new technology. He has little concern that the U.S. will ever run out of spectrum. “In a crisis,” Marty insists, “we technologists are going to come through.” Read more about what Marty and other industry experts are saying.
A proposal for delivering affordable, broadband mobile-Internet access to all Americans
America is currently in imminent danger of losing its leadership position in telecommunications. At the same time, businesses in industries and countries around the globe face a new productivity constraint—the rapidly growing demand for low cost mobile bandwidth. There is no viable long-range plan that will support this demand. The Presidential Prize will solve these challenges at minimal public cost and risk. The prize will be a segment of radio-frequency spectrum awarded to a U.S. entity that creates and implements a technology capable of achieving 100 times higher spectral efficiency than exist today at half today’s cost for consumers.
Congress and the Executive Branch control and manage the radio-frequency spectrum in the United States. But that spectrum belongs to the country’s citizens. Only visionary leadership, of the kind that put a man on the moon can bring the United States—and the world—into the new era of productivity that low-cost and widely available mobile access promises. Consider just a few facts:
Mobile traffic is growing rapidly: As Cisco recently reported, global mobile-data traffic grew 70% in 2012 to 885 monthly petabytes. This year, meanwhile, the world will grow to have more mobile, Internet-connected devices than people. Further, Cisco predicts, global mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold between 2012 and 2017, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 66% and reaching 11.2 monthly exabytes of traffic by 2017.
Mobile access is too expensive: At the same time that demand necessitates a more efficient use of existing radio spectrum for mobile Internet access, access to mobile data is far too expensive. A 2012 survey indicates that nearly half of U.S. wireless consumers pay $100 or more monthly for mobile service, while 21% pay more for their monthly mobile service than for their groceries. Is it any wonder that only about a third of the world’s population has access to the Internet—mobile or otherwise?
The potential benefits of mobile access are enormous: The potential impact of sufficient and affordable mobile access to the Internet on healthcare, education, employment rates and national productivity cannot be overestimated. But congressional and FCC policies and regulations that have served the nation so well in other matters are not likely to crack the code on making the vital national resource of radio-frequency spectrum widely available. The well-meaning administration initiative to redistribute spectrum currently allocated to government use may, over an extended period, result in a roughly 20% increase in bandwidth available for public data communications. This will hardly suffice for the 13-fold increase in demand expected in fewer than five years.
U.S. Influence is diminishing: At the same time, nearly all manufacturing of mobile-telecommunications equipment has moved offshore. There are no major infrastructure companies remaining in the U.S. Most mobile phones are built in China and Taiwan while China’s Huawei is the world’s fastest growing telecommunications-infrastructure company. Sweden’s Ericsson, France’s Alcatel/Lucent, Finland’s Nokia and Huawei, build almost all mobile infrastructure equipment. Although Google, Apple, U.S. carriers and others are important members of standards bodies, their influence is far reduced from historical levels.
The Presidential Prize
At no cost to U.S. taxpayers, the Presidential Spectrum Prize is meant to boost competition, alleviate unemployment, reinvigorate U.S. telecommunications and drive the creation and adoption of inexpensive and spectrally efficient technology for a vast majority of the American public.
To win the competition, the entrant must demonstrate a hundred-times improvement in spectral efficiency and a per-bit price at least half that of existing offerings. A maximum of two such awards will be made. The process of selecting the winner(s) will involve four phases, as follows:
Phase one – The publication of technical papers revealing the theoretical proof of the proposed technology, showing how both the technical and economic objectives will be met. Estimated cost per entrant: $200,000 to $1M.
Phase two – Laboratory demonstrations and measurements showing that the proposed solution can meet the Prize’s objectives. Estimated cost per entrant: $2M to $10M.
Phase three – A small-scale test bed comprising at least 30 sectors or cells in an urban or urban-like area with sufficient user devices to demonstrate feasibility. Estimated cost per system: $10M to $30M.
Phase four – Full city deployment in a medium-sized urban area, probably by one or two remaining participants. Estimated cost for initial deployment: $50M to $250M.
Total estimated cost for nationwide deployment: $20B+.
With Congressional approval, the FCC will make one or two awards to the competition winner(s) of a nationwide license for approximately 20 MHz of bandwidth of radio-frequency spectrum. While this appears too small to be commercially viable, the awardee’s technology will expand its capacity to equal many times the entire existing cellular spectrum.
Contestants will bear all research-and-development costs. Volunteer judges will be objective and skilled engineers and economists drawn from the National Academies and academia. Foundations and other non-associated sources will supply funds necessary to cover administrative and technical costs.
This proposal is presented in outline form. While the dollar amounts are estimates, the objective of 100-times efficiency is absolute and must not be compromised. Unlike the unsuccessful and so-called pioneer’s preference awards of the past, the actual award of spectrum will occur only after proof-of-concept, and substantial investment, by the winner(s).