July 9, 2015 — Funny what positions the FCC can take sometimes. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler championed sharing coveted spectrum in a recent speech at the Brookings Institute. Interesting … the FCC has always been the guard dog of spectrum, enforcing who owns what with a vice grip bite. Now he says that “mindset” has to change.
Welcome to the 21st century, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC. That concept is long overdue. If we are going to realize true ubiquitous broadband, a shared-spectrum mentality must evolve. Now, that doesn’t mean the FCC implements an eminent domain of wireless. But what it does mean is that use of spectrum should be flexible. If a good case is presented for sharing owned spectrum, and there is no or little downside, it should happen.
Then the question arises, should all spectrum be shared? Not necessarily. Public-safety spectrum, for example, probably should not be shared, for obvious reasons. But some of the ISM spectrum certainly should be, for example. The phenomenal success of Wi-Fi has shown the model can work.
Wheeler takes the position that the FCC’s most tangible role in growing broadband is to allocate and make available both the licensed and unlicensed spectrum necessary for competitive wireless broadband. That is a healthy position.
What makes this now possible, and desirable, is the convergence to virtual and software defined networks. That kind of evolution will make real-time frequency agility the wave of the future. No longer will hardware be needed to change wireless networks metrics, such as capacity, modulation schemes, compression and allocation. It can all be done in software from a global frequency pool. And it should happen soon.