Five omens suggest dynamic access to the airwaves is on its way, bringing hope that more people will gain access to more affordable broadband services.
Today's regulatory policies encourage exclusive licensing of spectrum to specific operators, as rightly happened when I led the 4G auction in the UK in February 2013. Static spectrum allocation is driven by the need to minimize interference and serve an established mobile ecosystem that equates exclusive licensing with investment certainty and economies of scale.
Unfortunately, it's also true that, even though 2.5 billion of us are broadband connected, another 5 billion people are not and do not look like they will be anytime soon.
The ITU set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development that declared broadband a human right. The second of its four targets is to make entry-level broadband cost less than 5% of the average monthly income by 2015. But most of those next 5 billion broadband users don't anticipate such affordable service by 2020, let alone next year.
The current model clearly works for those of us already connected. Unfortunately, as Dan Reed of Microsoft puts it, "the global village is real, but not inclusive."
I believe sharing spectrum and providing dynamic access to it will address this need for affordable access. Here are five reasons why I believe this approach is gaining steam.
Big companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are all members of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance DSA, and all were in Ghana in strength for our latest annual summit in May. They are serious about access and affordability, and not just because it's good PR. For them, access and affordability equates to larger markets and profitability. It means good, sustainable business.
Second, MediaTek, a founding member of the DSA, announced at the summit that it will release a tri-band chipset in partnership with another DSA member, Aviacomm, that will support WiFi in the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and TV white space (TVWS) bands using the 802.11af standard. MediaTek is the third-largest maker of WiFi chipsets in the world, so this is no PR stunt, either.
With one of these radios, WiFi is no longer just a local area network limited to a few hundred meters, but a wide-area link with a radius of kilometers. If regulators relax spectrum sharing rules in the low-frequency TV bands, which propagate much further than today's GHz frequencies, broadband truly could get interesting.
For example, an African village with one or two of these radios and backhaul into a fiber POP would suddenly deliver accessibility to broadband. The access could be affordable, too, using white-label, low-cost WiFi systems. Other DSA members like Adaptrum and 6Harmonics are already making second-generation TVWS radio equipment.
Next page: GSM will be shared