Friday, February 17, 2012

The spectrum should be ours, and it still can be

by Bob Crowley




It’s not hard to find dozens of articles about the impending FCC rulings allowing much wider use of spectrum in the spaces between television broadcast stations. So-called White Spaces are a partial misnomer, as this article in Wired makes the common error of calling WiFi a white space spectrum. It isn’t.  But what is apparent, and correctly mentioned, is that the FCC and others have a naive idea of what the future of spectrum use will afford. Yes, smart cars will need radio communications to control them, of course. But this misses the point of what electromagnetic radiation afforded communications are all about. The ability to transfer large amounts of information through space is unique to EM/radio and it has taken since the late 1800s for technology to be developed that can use it in a more or less automatic fashion, instead of having radio operators find channels and manually switch frequencies.   That’s where we are today, with the basic computer capable of two-way data communication to another computer not too far away, wirelessly.

Free wifi, cellular, for all?

Now for the next step: Long range peer to peer communication, mesh networks they are sometimes called, where your laptop or smartphone jumps to another person’s laptop, and over and over it relays to the final destination. Such use requires bandwidth, and is clearly in the mind of FCC.  Wimax and LTE are other more conventional ideas of hubs and spokes connected to the conventional ISP structure of the internet, but peer-to-peer direct connections are far more delicious to think about, as they bypass the giants such as Verizon and others, at least that’s the idea.

Getting physical

We’ll see in a few years. Meanwhile, the physical layer, the part where a signal goes out into space to be collected somewhere else, will still exist unchanged. No matter what, we can say confidently, the physical part of electromagnetic radiation, propagation and collection cannot be avoided if we are to have wireless communications among us, and that means energy will have to be used, though in small amounts, and that leads to efficient antennas.(or not, as in the case of the most recent iPhone antenna fiasco)

Something has to pick up the signal, and also transmit. Battery life is entirely dependent upon the efficient, non-wasteful radiation of RF energy to the nearby or perhaps not so close connection points that are being installed everywhere.

"Spectrum Omniscience" is a Possibility

One can imagine that no matter where you are, you will have continuous, ubiquitous connectivity via mesh networks.  We will be able to  receive and send information everywhere, all the time, to everyone. There will be dive-in points held by the large carriers and perhaps smaller enterprises too, but the rules of business will change, and if we are lucky, the spectrum will be ours.

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