David Stone's Blog

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Vint Cerf and the 700MHz Spectrum

Dare asks:

Google just pledged to spending up to $4.6 billion to license the 700MHz wireless spectrum in what the company has described as the most significant auction of wireless spectrum in history by the U.S. federal government. Why is this auction so significant and what kind of services can we expect from Google if it wins the auction? 

Here's a quick recap for those of you who are just now hearing about the 700MHz auction.

Essentially, this is the spectrum that's been used for broadcast television. Since the FCC has ruled that all cable companies must go digital next year, the FCC is auctioning off this chunk of the airwaves to corporations. The thing that makes the spectrum so valuable is the fact that it easily penetrates walls (as you know if you've ever dealt with those rabbit ear antennae for TVs). As such, it's the ideal piece of the airwaves for use in wireless broadband service. And it's generating quite a bit of controversy, which essentially boils down to Telecom vs The People.

The telecom industry wants the spectrum because it would increase their strangle hold on the United States' broadband internet access. By controlling it, they would have the ability to keep broadband speeds at their current level and provide minimal service to the people using broadband over that chunk of the spectrum.

The people want it to be open for more competitors to come in and provide wireless broadband services. As we've seen in areas where Verizon has installed their FIOS system, cable companies will respond to the pressure and increase their customers' bandwidth. Increasing the number of companies providing broadband access in a given area will decrease prices and increase bandwidth, giving the consumer better control and better choice over their internet access.

That's why Google has stepped in and said "We'll only throw our chips in the pot if you do things a bit differently." And considering that the main goal for the FCC in this auction is to raise billions of dollars, and Google has billions of dollars, I think they might listen. A few of the FCC commissioners have spoken out in favor of opening up the rules on the auction and the draft of the auction rules has indicated that they're willing to change.

If you want to read more about it, I highly recommend reading David Isenberg's blog. He posts quite frequently on the subject and other matters of freedom on the internet. (like net neutrality)

Vint Cerf came to UCSD a few months ago and I had the opportunity to sit in on the latter half of his presentation. I would definitely ask him about what he thinks regarding the 700MHz auction and what opportunities it presents for Google. I know they have their Google WiFi in Mountain View. Would they consider moving to a nationwide Google Broadband service? And would they remember that they're trying not to be evil?


Larry Karisny said:

I recently sent a letter to Vint Cerf hoping he could get Google to focus on testing the survivable network topologies of mobile mesh wireless networks.  These network topologies have built-in, self healing characteristics much like the Internet itself.  I am concerned that the big ticket 700 MHz solution is first not broadband and second not a survivable infrastructure in disasters.  The high powered, towered topologies that currently run wireless cell and emergency communication networks have shown to be vulnerable in many if not all recent catastrophic events.  The new 700 MHz networks will be built using the same high power, towered network infrastructure.

If we are to build a new broadband wireless network, shouldn’t we build a survivable and scalable infrastructure like we did when building the original Internet?  Central cell towers do not offer needed communication through put in catastrophes as demonstrated in the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse and certainly do not survive catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina.  Interesting enough, wireless mesh networks survived both of these catastrophic events.  Wouldn’t the vulnerability of new 700 MHz network topologies be similar to current cell and emergency networks?  If wireless mesh designs have already proven their survivability in catastrophes, should we focus on building new wireless networks using these topology designs?

If we are to build a new broadband wireless infrastructure we should consider survivable designs that can offer scalable broadband bandwidths.  I think Google should spend more time and R&D in Mountain View and learn the potential of mesh designs and less time and money 700 MHz spectrum that is unproven and might be here by 2012.  I think Dr. Cerf is one of the few people that would understand the importance of wireless mobile mesh network topologies.  He did a pretty good job building the Internet.  Please pass the word.  

# November 21, 2007 7:19 PM

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Vint Cerf and the 700MHz Spectrum

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