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I Was Wrong and Sloppy to Blame Safari on the iPad for Viewing Problems

I was sloppy in my debugging and wrong to blame Safari on the iPad for problems we had viewing web pages on that device in my post The Empress' New iPad. Although iPad, as is well known, doesn't support Flash, the problems I was seeing were caused by settings on the two WiFi routers I use; these settings don't seem to affect other devices. However, the problems are well known and the fixes simple unless you own a very old router. Details for those who may have a problem with broken web pages on an iPad – other than when trying to view Flash content – are below.

Mary got a new iPad for her birthday and it came with setup by me. When I was ready for her to play with it, she was immediately disappointed to find that she couldn't follow a link in an email to a special sale at Sears. The page displayed but she couldn't click away from it. I couldn't go to Sears.com at all; Safari (the iPad default browser) just said that the website couldn't be found. I tried loading NYTimes.com; got a crippled braindead version of the first page although other pages looked OK.

As I always do with a new problem, I googled it. Wasn't suspicious enough about not finding these symptoms exactly replicated. There was lots of discussion about lack of Flash (a web authoring tool used for animation and bling) and about servers sending pages meant for small cellphone screens to iPad's nice big screen. I decided that we were suffering from some variant of this problem and blogged and tweeted accordingly and wondered out loud why more people weren't complaining about such an obvious flaw.

I was wrong. Friends, relatives, and commenters quickly let me know that their iPads had no problem with these sites. Then I did what I should've done in the beginning – started to eliminate variables.

Used my Verizon Fivespot wireless device to create a local hotspot connected to Verizon Wireless and logged the iPad onto that. Now sears.com work and nytimes.com work flawlessly, so it's either my ISP or my local routers that are the problem. Then create a local ad hoc hotspot from my PC which is on an Ethernet connection to my router. That works, too; so looks like the ISP is not at fault. Hard to believe both my routers have a problem, but I google that seriously. PC Mag wrote about a spate of WiFi problems when the iPad was first released.

Turns out that iPad2 prefers a variant of WiFi known as 802.11n. It also supports a, b, and g; but it likes n. Moreover, it wants the official release of n and not some prerelease kluge. Apple suggests that, if you are having a problem, you make sure your router has the latest firmware release from the manufacturer and that you specify, if it is a multiprotocol router, you want to use 802.11n only (could be a problem for other old devices). Most people's symptom is inability to connect to a WiFi hub, but some did report intermittent connection issues. Still haven't found anyone who had our specific problem that some websites work and some don't.

My old Dlink router didn't support 802.11n at all. It had the latest firmware but that was from early last year. My Belkin N+ router has an option for which protocols it supports. Turned off everything but n. Voila – everything works.

Should have done more debugging and less blogging. Should've realized that problems as severe as I suspected with iPad Safari browsing would've left a google-able trail.

Lessons learned.

Related post:

The Empress' New iPad

 

LTE Insufficient from the Start – Boingo IPO Propitious

The trouble with planning way ahead is that the world changes before you execute. The major wireless carriers have been planning their 4th generation LTE (Long Term Evolution) rollouts for a long time – that's how they do things. Now, even as Verizon Wireless is doing an aggressive rollout of LTE, it's becoming clear that LTE networks will not be able to slake the data thirst of a world full of smart phones and tablets. Whoops.

According to Gizmodo, early tests of lightly loaded LTE sites are showing blazing data rates over 10mbps, certainly fast enough for streaming video to a small screen and satisfactory even for larger streams. But, the better it is, the more it'll get used. It's very unlikely that urban sites will be able to handle the number of smart phone and tablet equipped video-streaming customers who will want to use them simultaneously once LTE devices are widespread, Phil Leigh explains part of the problem on insidedigitalmdedia.com:

"…the iPad's screen is seven times larger than that of the iPhone. Thus it is much more likely to be used for streaming video and other rich media applications. Simultaneously its owners will require higher resolution images in order to get a satisfactory viewing experience. Similarly, the iPhone-4's FaceTime video calling feature is expected to be so popular that AT&T Wireless banned it from the company's cellular network."

Since adjacent sites need to avoid stepping on each other's frequencies, you can't just deploy more and more sites, even if the economics were favorable, in order to solve the too-many-customers problem. Penalizing customers for using the data service you just sold them is not a very good long term solution for carriers either. Phil Leigh again:

"AT&T Wireless' decision to impose usage sensitive pricing on iPhones and iPads portends turmoil in The Wireless Internet. Consumers dislike metered pricing and are much less likely to increase usage of services that require it."

So what's the answer? Will we be in a hell of slow downloads and constantly-pausing videos? Will we rarely be able to hear anyone anywhere because of network congestion?

No, those bad things won't happen; it's likely that WiFi will save us. We already see the carriers encouraging us to connect our phones via WiFi or even our home broadband connections. Rumored reasons for AT&T's plan to buy T-Mobile include not only being able to obtain more radio spectrum but also to get control of T-Mobile's vast WiFi network and create more places where AT&T devices can connect automatically without using capacity on the cellular network.

You can deploy a very dense network of WiFi hotspots and make it more and more dense as it gets more users. WiFi hubs are designed to compete constructively with adjacent hubs; WiFi uses radio bandwidth much more efficiently than cellular technologies because WiFi grew up in the wild west of unregulated spectrum, not in the neatly (over)engineered garden of the licensed spectrum, where each company owns its own radio space. WiFi is used mainly at low broadcast power, which turns out to be a good thing when you want to crowd in more transmitters – think lots of little circles with less users in each circle than the big circles with lots of competing users around a cell tower. And WiFi devices being consumer devices are cheap, cheap, cheap so cost is not an obstacle to deploying many of them. As we need more bandwidth for WiFi, it will easily move into the newly freed TV white space because this is also free-for-all unlicensed spectrum.

While the use of WiFi instead of cellular radios gives the big carriers a way around the inadequate capacity of their coming 4G networks, it also diminishes the value of those networks and the expensive spectrum licenses that the carriers already bought. A Telco 2.0 executive briefing asks "Public Wifi: Destroying LTE/Mobile Value?" and answers "By building or acquiring Public WiFi networks for tens of $Ms, highly innovative fixed players in the UK are stealthily removing $Bns of value from 3G and 4G mobile spectrum as smartphone and other data devices become increasingly carrier agnostic."

Which brings us to the Boingo IPO scheduled for this Wednesday; their ticker symbol on NASDAQ will be WIFI. According to Ryan Kim writing on GigaOm, the company operates 325,000 hotspots in more than 100 countries.

"The goal is for Boingo to help carriers offload their data needs on to Boingo's network, helping them stay ahead of the crushing demand for wireless broadband. Even with the rollout of 4G services, Boingo is a good position to participate in the growing consumer appetite for wireless connectivity. The company believes its scalable and global network will provide a reliable way in which to increase capacity for operators."

I haven't done enough research to recommend for or against buying, but it's an interesting proposition. Also ironic that companies like Boingo may prosper by selling the use of free unregulated spectrum to the very companies that own huge, expensive swaths of the regulated space.

Related posts:

Why did Mary's AT&T iPhone Ask To Use Verizon?

AT&T "Freeloading" on ISP Pipes

Go White Space, Young Person, Go White Space

Advising the FCC on Invisible Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski uses the apt term "invisible infrastructure" to describe the radio spectrum over which all wireless communication occurs. "Though you can't see it, spectrum is the oxygen of our mobile communications infrastructure and the backbone of a growing percentage of our economy, Genachowski said in a recent talk at the FCC Spectrum Summit.

At the summit Genachowski also announced that he has set up a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) "comprised of some of the leading technology and business leaders in our country" to provide "counsel on using spectrum and other communications technologies to drive job creation and economic growth." I'm one of the members of the TAC. [This is volunteer work; your tax dollars are safe.] Although government committees can be waste of time and an excuse for inaction, I'm hopeful about this one because the Chair and the FCC clearly understand both how urgent the need is to make more spectrum available for mobile communication AND the size of the opportunity this can be for the US.

Think cell phones and smart phones in general; think Wifi and Bluetooth; think Kindle, iPhone, iPad, and Android; think of the application markets which have already opened up for these technologies and devices; the services new and old which can be delivered over them. All of this opportunity requires radio spectrum.

The spectrum is a national resource; it belongs to all of us; it is managed by the FCC within parameters set by Congress. If we keep managing it in the traditional way, which evolved when technology was very different, we will run out of spectrum and exhaust radio-based opportunities; our devices will slow down because of spectrum congestion even though we want to use them more. Genachowski says "we are likely to see a 35X increase in mobile broadband traffic over the next 5 years."

He continues:

"It's clear: We are standing at a crossroads. We are looking at two potential futures.

"If we act thoughtfully and execute on a strategic vision to ensure the highest and best use of this precious national resource, we can drive billions of dollars in private investment, fueling world-leading innovations, creating millions of new jobs, and enabling endless new products and services that can help improve the lives of all Americans.

"If we don't, we will put our country's economic competitiveness at risk, and squander the chance we now have to lead the world in mobile."

Under Genachowski, the FCC recently made a decision which will allow "TV white spaces", spectrum which used to be reserved for over-the-air TV, to be used instead for UNLICENSED services like WiFi and Bluetooth and whatever else inventive minds can invent. Just the success of those two technologies, in the small slivers of "undesirable" spectrum so far available to them, demonstrates how much more information can be transmitted over shared spectrum than over spectrum licensed to a particular owner AND how much innovation results when spectrum is made available for innovation rather than earmarked for a specific purpose.

In some sense spectrum is finite like, for example, the width of a fiber used to carry signal. However, evolving technology makes it possible to squeeze more and more information through the same strand of fiber and over the same range of radio spectrum. But the use of radio spectrum is regulated unlike the technologies used in fiber optics. Although some regulation is needed to prevent interference and allocate the right to use this public asset, the "wrong" regulation and the "wrong" allocations will result in spectrum shortages. The "right" regulation and allocation – what the FCC is doing with white spaces – will make spectrum relatively cheap and plentiful.

I'm glad to have the opportunity to help devise a plan for our crucial invisible infrastructure.

Packing My Droid for Travel

My Verizon Droid isn't going to be able to communicate with cell towers in Europe; it uses CDMA technology and Europe is all GSM. But I've gotten dependent on the droid for lots of things including navigation. In most cases, there's an app for that - even two or three apps.

Let's start with navigation. My droid is now my GPS; its screen is plenty big enough. But it navigates using Google maps, which it downloads on the fly over my data connection to Verizon Wireless (VZW). Not going to have that connection in Europe. Googled "droid download maps", quickly found a few solutions, and downloaded a couple of them for good measure.

MapDroyd is free including a very good selection of international maps which I can download and save on my droid now while I'm still online. I need Sicily and they've got that. The trouble with MapDroyd is that it doesn't do turn-by-turn directions, say they plan to a future plus version which they'll probably charge for. Still, it could be a help so it's now installed on the droid.

CoPilot Live for the Android does do turn-by-turn and has downloadable apps. Its maps are expensive, though; the all Europe package is over $100 and'll take up a lot of space on my phone. There are supposed to be country-specific maps which are smaller and presumably cheaper; but it's not clear how to select them from the droid marketplace. I asked CoPilot Live tech support via email but haven't got anything but a robo-acknowledgement yet.

Don't know whether it counts as navigation but I downloaded Google's free Sky Mapfor good measure in case I find myself in a starship.

Calling over WiFi should be a good thing even when I can't connect to VZW (or maybe even when I can). The Skype application for droid is a disappointment. It does connect over WiFi in the US; but, if the call is domestic, Verizon charges you for it. You do save money if your calling another Skype user or if you're making an international call to a regular phone in which case you pay Skype and not VZW rates. Apparently, it won't call over WiFi outside the US so useless for calling home, which is exactly what I want to be able to do.

Fring looks like it may be the call-home answer. The app is free and can even make video calls fring-to-fring and supports free calls to SIP users. But not all my friends are SIPing nerds (if you don't know what SIP is, don't worry). FringOut supports calling ordinary phone numbers at a low cents per minute (one cent to the US, 1.7 cents to Italy); these are rates to landlines, though; it takes too much searching on the Fring site to find that mobile rates are much higher to countries outside North America where there is usually a mobile surcharge. I have an old phone that'll I get an Italian SIM for to make calling and texting locally cheaper.

Using WiFi instead of VZW. Wanted to make sure I will be able to use fring and send and receive email when I have a WiFi connection but am traveling out of range of VZW. Enabling WiFi on the droid was easy and logical. It found my home network right away and linked to it and through it with no trouble. Hopefully will do as well with networks with different security. It's not obvious whether your WiFi or VZW connection is being used when you have both, but I needed to know for testing purposes. Good trick is to go into airline mode which disables VZW, WiFi, and Bluetooth, then selectively re-enable WiFi. Fring and email and browsing DO work in this configuration. Phew. Consensus of the droid fora is that WiFi is used by most apps (but not Skype outside the US) whenever it's available, so enabling at home helps save you from going over the 5 gig "unlimited" limit on your droid.

Findle app. Came with my droid; enabled it by giving my Amazon account info. Downloaded a book I've been reading on Kindle. Opened right to the page I was reading on the Kindle. Cool!

Plans B and C. I will be taking my laptop which has built in WiFi and GPS so can use both of those; and I have a Skype account on that. Have an Ethernet cable, of course. Also have a couple of USB cellular modems I've accumulated into which I ought to be able to put SIMs to get prepaid cellular data in Italy. Have my real Kindle – the international edition. And Mary has her iPhone which does work in Europe (because at&t uses GSM) although at an outrageous price. I'll let you know how much I can rely on droid plan A.

Related posts:

Droid, Gmail, gSyncit, iPhone, Outlook, Mary and Me

Navigating on My Droid

Swyping from my Droid – The Supplement

This post was swyped on my droid

Droid Setup – Day 1 of My Re-Retirement

Go White Space, Young Person, Go White Space

"Go white space," is the advice Horace Greeley would give if he were alive today. This supersedes previous advice given to Dustin Hoffmann to go into plastics just before his first romantic encounter with Mrs. Robinson as well as Greeley's earlier advice to go west. Use of the "TV white space" will be the new wild west in many ways; there should be a gold rush of innovation.

"White space" is radio spectrum that used to be reserved for TV use. Some has been freed up by over-the-air TV shifting to digital broadcasting which needs less spectrum; some – particularly in rural areas – never was used for TV and now pretty clearly won't be. In a decision two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it practical for this valuable idle resource to be used WITHOUT OWNERS OF TRANSMITTERS BEING LICENSED. This is a big deal. It will lead to enormous innovation; it gives American companies a valuable sandbox to innovate in; and it will also result in much better use of the available radio frequencies.

Radio spectrum is considered a public resource and "belongs" to the federal government which usually auctions off what it doesn't need for its own purposes. These auctions have brought considerable revenue into the treasury. Nevertheless, two years ago the FCC first made the gutsy decision to leave this newly available, highly desirable spectrum for unlicensed use without a fee. I was convinced that this would lead to an immediate burst of innovation then – I was wrong (so maybe you want to take my enthusiasm now with a grain of salt). Just when this innovation explosion was supposed to happen, the recession hit – all we got was a burst of bailouts, not investment.

Moreover, it turns out that the original technical regulations imposed by the FCC then were unnecessarily difficult to comply with. Radios using this spectrum were required to be able to detect all broadcast stations they might be interfering with even if they incorporated location sensing and were able to check a database for licensed users. Now either approach is allowed, but radios don't have to incorporate both. In the interim, technology has moved relentlessly along: the cost of location sensing has gone way down as GPS chips proliferate; radios have gotten smarter and smarter and more and more capable of the kind of agile frequency use required when sharing spectrum with strangers.

We have all seen firsthand what happens when spectrum is left free for unlicensed use – the best example is WiFi. You can install a WiFi radio in your house without a license. Bluetooth, which we usually use to connect our cell phones to other devices, is another example where incredibly useful very inexpensive devices and uses have blossomed. Cordless phone are a third example. All of these uses coexist in some shards of spectrum which were undesirable because various instruments and machinery generate noise at these frequencies. In 1985 the FCC chose to make this spectrum available for unlicensed use. The chart below shows the flurry of innovation which resulted and hasn't stopped yet.

 

 

For technical reason, the ex-TV white space frequencies can be used for much longer distance transmission than the frequencies formerly available for unlicensed use. Moreover, transmissions at these frequencies go through walls and usually through leaves. Even though these signals won't go through granite (or brick walls), they bounce well so they effectively go around corners. These are as good as the frequencies which cell phones are on today.

Availability of the white space under new, more realistic regulations, is particularly good news for rural areas since we have less TV channels and thus more spectrum available. This spectrum will be important to the economical delivery of date communication, particularly mobile data communication, in sparsely populated areas with difficult terrain.

Eventually use of the white space may diminish the value of the licenses which carriers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and others bought at auction; that's one of the reason it took so long to get this use approved in a meaningful way. Those licenses serve to reinforce the control the telco duopoly has exercised over mobile communication; unlicensed use will open the way to more competition – something we need. White spaces are disruptive; our economy could use some healthy disruption.

Carl Ford, who knows a lot about such things, wrote:

"In other words the White Space decision is the CarterPhone decision of our time. [nb. CarterPhone broke the telco monopoly on devices attached to the phone network. Without it we wouldn't have had modems.]

"The old rules are being honored with the spectrum mapping required, but at least they did not force White Space to adopt costly spectrum monitoring techniques.

"Ideally it would be nice to see Mary and Tom Evslin lead a charge of enhanced service enablers in a regulatory free zone."

Nice of Carl to remember the disruptive days of VoIP. We're retired now but it still makes us feel good; we'll enjoy the charge no matter who leads it.

Related posts:

Fractals of Change: The White Space Opportunity - Priceless

Fractals of Change: White Space Momentum

Fractals of Change: The FCC White Space Regs – Pretty Good at First Glance [I was wrong]

Fractals of Change: The Other Vote on November 4th

Fractals of Change: FCC Vote Results – We The People Won

Fractals of Change: The Importance of the FCC

 

 

Airlines Encourage Cloud Computing

When things come full circle, you know you're old. I cut my professional teeth on massive centralized computers; helped use remote access to bring computing power out of the glass room; then I retooled for the massive decentralization that microcomputers made possible; made a new career in helping to connect all those decentralized computers. Now, IMHO, computing is about to go back into the cloud.

According to a story by Nathan Eddy at eweek.com, United is planning to join American, Delta, and Virgin America in offering WiFi on US domestic flights. The story talks about being able to exchange email and rebook flights while aloft. What's more important is that WiFi en route will remove one of the last reasons to carry around much more computing power than you can get in a netbook – a small computer with long battery life, a good screen, but not much disk storage and not many onboard applications.

When you want to do word processing or number crunching on a netbook, you use an application for that purpose available online. Google and others already offer somewhat weaker online versions of the Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel that most of us are familiar with. You or your employer save money twice – once when you buy a cheap netbook without Windows rather than a more expensive laptop, the second time when you don't buy a copy of Microsoft Office.

Up until now the appeal of netbooks was small because we all spent a fair amount of our travel time offline but still wanted to be able to work. But, if we're going to be online most of the time, netbooks get to be a very good alternative. We already can get online in our cars in much of the country – hopefully only while we're passengers – using the cellular technologies EVDO and HSPA.

Maybe smart is the new cool but saving money now means survival. My prediction is that netbooks start to make serious inroads during the current ueconomic unpleasantness. Bad news for Dell and others who will probably see smaller margins on these cheaper machines; perhaps good news for Intel if the cheaper machines (which still need good computing power to execute remote apps locally) expand the market for chips. Good news for communications providers as the need for bandwidth – especially mobile bandwidth – increases. At least temporary good news for airlines since they plan to charge $12.95/flight for access (are we really saving money then?). Very bad news for Microsoft. Perhaps bad news for Apple since it's hard to see running most apps on the small screens of most cool Apple devices and the Mac coolness will be lost if we're all running apps in the cloud.

Also bad news for parts of the country which don't have pervasive Internet access. We end up using obsolete apps on obsolete machines and paying more for the privilege. Good thing we're building an e-state here in Vermont.

Shape of the Future?

 

This is good news, right? This convention center in Boston is NOT charging an arm and a leg for temporary roaming Internet access. BTW, it worked pretty well at a little less than one meg in the downwards direction.

But, even if access to information is free, the energy to power that access isn't. See below:

 

I think this may be aimed at people who forgot their chargers because there were plenty of wall plugs you could camp next to and get some free kilowatt hours.

But my guess is that we'll see less free access to energy and more free access to the Internet.

Vermont Files in Support of Using White Space for Mobile Broadband Access

The Vermont Public Service Department and the Vermont Telecommunications Authority have joined in an ex parte filing at the Federal Communications Commission urging that the Commission “move expeditiously to adopt the necessary technical parameters … and help make this promising technology [use of the so-called ‘TV whitespaces’] a reality.” Given that the docket has been open since May of 2004, a little expeditiousness is certainly in order.

“TV white spaces” is the term used by the FCC but it’s a misnomer; no broadcaster has actually paid for any of the spectrum at issue; no one is using it; in short; it’s wasted. Originally, before cable and satellite TV and before the Internet, it was reasonably believed that this spectrum would eventually be occupied by a proliferation of over-the-air stations. That’s not gonna happen. Vermont has as much radio spectrum “reserved” for over-the-air TV stations as New York City – 50 channels worth. That “reserved” spectrum is not of any use to anyone and won’t be until the FCC promulgates some rules for its use.

The filing explains the many reasons why this spectrum is ideally suited to meeting the needs or rural America for much better broadband and cellular coverage:

“First, rural areas like Vermont have relatively fewer TV broadcasters and therefore more unused ‘white spaces.’ Moreover, rural communities also have the largest geographic areas without access to wireless services. Second, the ability of TV frequencies to propagate over great distances and difficult terrain provides an opportunity to reach locations too economically challenging for existing wireless services. Third, the use of TV ‘white space’ for the provision of rural broadband is an alternative means of accomplishing the Commission’s universal service goal of deploying advanced services to all areas of the nation without requiring additional funding mechanisms. In fact, the use of TV ‘white space’ could actually decrease the demand for universal service funding at a time when the level of funding is facing heightened scrutiny.”

The filing makes clear that the petitioners do NOT think that this spectrum should be auctioned off at a high price. The greatest public good will come from making these public resources available “at low or no-cost to those entities willing to utilize them for such purpose [broadband and mobile access].”

It will take the concentrated political power of rural America to free up this spectrum to meet the rural need for better communication. But this isn’t urban vs. rural; urban areas also have something to gain from better spectrum availability and nothing to lose.

Not to over-dramatize but I see this as the public interest vs. entrenched communications interests. The TV industry would like to sit on this spectrum without paying for it “just in case”; they also may be worried about Internet use of the spectrum becoming a competing “channel” for delivering entertainment. Traditional communications carriers benefit from LACK of competition in the US broadband market; they have no reason to want to see competition growing like weeds (or, more accurately, like WiFi) in fields of open spectrum.

Google and other “Internet” companies do have an interest in keeping their paths to the consumer unblocked; competition would be good for that. This post is about a proposal Google has made for putting the unused white space to work.

Disclosure: My wife, Mary Evslin, is Chair of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority.

Cordless or Wireless? Good Question

We don’t do spring here in Vermont so now it’s summer although there’s still plenty of snow gleaming in the mountains. Time for me to work outside (at least until we get our obligatory late season snowstorm).

My cordless phone is scratchy by the time I get out on the deck; it doesn’t like being that far from the base station. The WiFi isn’t great on the deck either.

I could move the base station for the cordless phone and install a repeater for the WiFi signal. Last year I used my antenna and high-power WiFi card to make WiFi work right outside. But that’s all a lot of trouble.

Instead I made my calls using my wireless (aka cellular) phone. And I put the EVDO USB modem in my computer and just used that for connectivity. Since I never use my 500 wireless minutes each month nor the 5 gigabytes per month included in my EVDO account, it doesn’t cost me anything incremental to be in my travel configuration while on the deck; and it’s a lot more convenient than making the house radios have good coverage outside.

So here’s the question: will there come a time when we don’t install our own little radios for voice and data at the end of the wires, cables, or fiber that comes into our houses? Will we just pick up the same signal from our carriers that we use when we’re traveling inside the house as well as on the deck and in the car?

Clearly WON’T happen unless the carriers lower the prices for cellular and EVDO and lift the volume limits. $99/month for unlimited talking on Verizon Wireless or AT&T is a lot more than $24.95 on Vonage which also includes reasonable rates on international calling. 5 gig would disappear pretty soon if I were doing my nightly over-the-net backups and watching MLB.com on EVDO. Moreover EVDO isn’t really fast enough for lots of web stuff.

The conventional wisdom is that eventually voice and data will come over a fiber into the house and then be distributed wirelessly thoughout the house and maybe the yard and that mobile needs will continue to be met by different technology at a higher price. Maybe the conventional wisdom is right but it’s always worth questioning.

I think there’s a strong probability that not just the last 100 feet but the whole last mile will be wireless in many places. Radio technology is advancing very quickly. There would be plenty of spectrum IFF (and it’s a big IFF) there were regulatory reform to allow use of whitespace and make much more spectrum open. As we (and our computers) spend more and more time connected, we’ll be more and more impatient with having to switch connectivity modes when we walk out the front door.

That would mean no communication wires, cables or fibers coming to most single family residences. That could also mean true competition in communication services just as cell phone service offers more choices, more competition, and more innovation than landline service does today. It’s hard to make a business case for duplicate networks to each house; much easier to make the case for competitive radios, even on the same towers.

Just a speculation.

Google’s Gigabit Gambit

Want a gig (1000 megabits per second) of Internet access bandwidth? Google says you could have it by the end of next year “from Manhattan to rural North Dakota (sic, I think they meant Vermont)” if their proposal to the FCC is accepted forthwith according to CNET’s newsblog. Not only a gig but a mobile gig, accessible by cellphone or roaming computer – no fiber required. Sound too good to be true? – it isn’t, IMHO!

Engineering is not the problem (more below). Politics, entrenched interests, and bureaucratic inertia, however, make it unlikely this dream’ll come true as quickly as it ought to despite the fact that America could lead the world in broadband penetration and accessibility within two years if the FCC accedes to the request Google made yesterday to open up “whitespace” for use by broadband devices. Rural areas – most deprived of broadband service to day – would be the biggest beneficiaries; but urban America has plenty to gain as well. Google also has plenty to gain by FCC agreement – nothing wrong with that.

How’s this possible? In short, open spectrum. But I’ll explain.

A huge swath of frequencies is reserved for over the air use. Even after TV stations give up a relatively small amount of spectrum in February of next year by switching to all digital broadcast format, there will still be enough spectrum available for channels 2 through 51 in every market in the United States; there is also unused space between channels which modern technology makes safely usable. In rural areas, as much as 300Mhz of spectrum may be completely unused; even in rural areas there are unused swaths and the space between the channels can now safely be used thanks to modern technology. In the recently completed FCC auction, Verizon promised to pay over $4.7 BILLION dollars for just 22Mhz of spectrum so 300Mhz is a really big deal.

Although this whitespace is nominally reserved for television use, no one has paid for a license to use any of it. It’s fallow, as we say in Vermont. It’s time it was grazed.

Unlike the 22Mhz band which Verizon just bought, the whitespace is a patchwork. Different frequencies are available in different places. Radios, whether in cellphones or attached to computers, which use this spectrum have to either know where they are (trivial with GPS) or have some way to listen to see what frequencies are usable locally and be able to change their frequency as you drive down the road much as you change radio stations to adapt to local conditions. Mobile phones already do this within a narrow range of frequencies; wifi has much of this technology. Google is suggesting that only radios which have passed FCC licensing criteria for safe operation be allowed to operate.

Despite the fact that the radios will be licensed, the operators will not! A cellular operator has to get a license to use a specific frequency from the FCC; a WiFi operator does not. Google calls its proposal WiFi 2.0 for this reason. Google is proposing that these frequencies b made available for UNLICENSED use (albeit with licensed radios). Experience has taught us that much more signal will be crammed into a given swath of spectrum if the spectrum is unlicensed than if it is licensed. (BTW, some smart people disagree on this and point to real instances of wifi congestion. I think this is a consequence of the relatively tiny slivers of junk spectrum wifi shares with microwave and cordless phones and will not be a serious problem in the wide open whitespaces).

Moreover, innovation thrives in unlicensed spectrum. From Google’s letter to the FCC:

In short, FCC rules should specify only what is allowed, not how that result is to be achieved, or by whom. Much like the Internet itself, the agency’s specifications should as much as possible enable “innovation without permission” (although with necessary technical constraints). For example, the Part 15 rules permitting WiFi were written years before the IEEE 802.11 technology was even contemplated, much less existed. If those rules had been contingent on the pre-existence of WiFi, one of the most successful and efficient uses of spectrum in the history of wireless communications likely never would have happened.”

Google is not asking for any special privilege. However, the availability of open spectrum would not only create a huge opportunity for their proposed Android phone design but also protect them from the threat of the established carriers finding a way to establish toll booths which divert revenue from Google’s coffers to those of the carriers. Because Google has such a large stake in making open spectrum a success, they’re offering help to those who will do the actual implementation:

“Google also would be willing to provide, at no cost to third parties, the technical support necessary to make these plans happen; this could include intellectual property and reference designs for underlying technologies, open geo-databases maintained by Google, and other supporting infrastructure.”

Why won’t this happen?

Remember Verizon just promised to pay $4.7 billion and change for the 22Mhz C block; how much is that 22Mhz worth if huge blocks of unlicensed spectrum with similar propagation characteristics become available around the country? Google made a pass at this spectrum and probably forced the Verizon bid up. Was this rope-a-dope?

Don’t feel to sorry for Verizon though; they cited the upcoming rulemaking on the whitespaces as a reason why the spectrum they bought at auction should be auctioned rather than released for unlicensed use.

Americans pay more for less Internet access bandwidth than people in most developed and many developing nations. These prices will plummet per megabit when over-the-air competition becomes available. Those who benefit from this pricing will not be happy to see the competition – and they have lobbyists.

Cellphone calling costs much more than the price of providing the service. Control of spectrum lets the major carriers keep these prices up. What happens if spectrum is open? There goes another rubber tree plant.

I’ll be speaking at David Isenberg’s always worthwhile F2C conference next Monday morning at 8:30AM. Even though it’s only the day before April Fool’s Day, I’ll be giving a history lesson from a 2018 perspective of how almost all spectrum got unlicensed. The Google proposal is a milestone in that “history”.

More on open spectrum:

Internet 2.0 is Open Spectrum

Backstory of Open Spectrum Epiphany

Spectrum Serendipity

Google’s Brilliant Proposal (this one wasn’t adopted)

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