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Super WiFi Could Use Television Spectrums To Disrupt Wireless Market

Super Wi-Fi. The words sound pretty great together, don't they? Like a deity. Omnipotent. So powerful. So many possibilities.

Two scientists from KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) in Germany have proposed a creation of just that, a Super Wi-Fi, from terrestrial broadcasting. Arnd Weber and Jens Elsner, authors of the article Beachfront Commons, propose to use bands below 2 GHz for free communication, instead of licensing them to large companies.

UHF bands originally used for television are being used less and less. In 2008, the FCC auctioned licenses to use portions of the 700 MHz band, which is the spectrum just above the remaining TV broadcast channels. According to a 2012 New York Times Article, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint said they required more radio spectrums, citing necessity due to growing demand, and they sought FCC approval to buy more at auction. The frequencies they hope to buy are 470-698 MHz.

A helpful comparison, which the American public has already seen in headlines this year, would be the issues surrounding cable companies and net neutrality. Currently, cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner more or less have monopolies over certain geographical regions, allowing them to increase the price of Internet with little or no competition.

Telecommunications companies are courting the FCC in a similar fashion, likely in hopes of monopolizing the mobile broadband market to increase profits. It is possible that if telecommunications expanded networks and perhaps concentrated signals better, then mobile networks would be improved. But in Beachfront Commons, Weber argued that giving a small amount of UHF to individuals instead will cause innovation.

Weber and Elsner touched on the fact that certain technologies, which have been in competition with each other in past decades, have become "disruptors" together. This includes smartphones, which have brought WiFi and SMS together, whereas the technologies formerly competed. These disruptors have only been possible because of competition; and Weber asked if more future possible disruptions would contribute to a further reduction in the cost of communications, or to the development of new devices and markets?

As an ideal, competition and disruptors sound fantastic for the market, especially for the consumer. But questions lie in the logistics of high UHF bands hosting wireless communications, rather than one-way broadcasting. Typically, scholars suggest that spectrum commons can be used where congestion of the spectrum is unlikely to occur, as in short-range communications.

Weber and Elsner argue that opening up the spectrum could lead to higher speeds and better, perhaps larger, mesh networks. Techniques can also be used to deal with the open spectrum, among them being Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) and Beamforming, or what Weber refers to as "politeness protocols."

Weber said, "A tele[communications company] could argue we price spectrum such that users willing to pay always get some [access to wireless communication]. We argue, okay, with commons one may only get a little [access], but often one gets a lot, and always for free."

But the very idea of radio frequencies and limited spectrum may be a falsehood entirely.

David P. Reed is an American computer scientist most famous for co-authoring the paper about the "end-to-end principle," which in essence created the foundation for the Internet. The end-to-end principle stipulates that in node communication, any "function" (for example, a checksum that checks data errors in a file transfer) should be added at each end host (destination), rather than in the intermediary nodes between the two hosts. This concept actually has been used to argue for net neutrality, because of its use of "dumb" networks. (The original paper is here.)

Reed added an interesting twist to the spectrum argument. He argued that it's a falsehood that a frequency band can only be used by one system at a time.

"The problem with this…falsehood is that frequency bands are, from an engineering point of view, far from the best way to share the electromagnetic field we use for communications -- so inefficient, in fact, that they create a worsening 'scarcity' that need not exist at all," he said.

According to Reed, the idea that there are limited radio frequencies is much like saying that there is limited color in the color spectrum. There are infinite frequencies -- much in the way that there are infinite shades of the color blue -- and they do not interfere; they pass through each other. Bad communication using radio and television frequencies is an issue of devices, not of scarce spectrum space.

Indeed, consumers have seen that upgrading wireless devices improves communication. Weber and Elsner touched on this idea of necessary innovation in Beachfront Commons, but Reed took the idea a step further and proposed that the entire use of spectrum needs to be scrapped.

"'Super WiFi' is interesting in a certain way, but it's been a bit overhyped, and it does not address the long term challenges of an ever-increasing need for wireless internetworking," Reed said. "…The era of sitting down at a laptop, plugging into the wall or a fixed hotspot, is an idea that has been fading for a decade now. 'Super WiFi' is addressing a problem that is not the problem now, and certainly will be less of a problem in the future."

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  • rmirwin2
    "Spectrums" is not a word! The plural of "spectrum" is "spectra"!
    Reply
  • ex_bubblehead
    15128293 said:
    "Spectrums" is not a word! The plural of "spectrum" is "spectra"!
    Actually, either is correct: http://grammarist.com/usage/spectra-spectrums/
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    As someone who currently pays about $80 USD a month for about 1mbps with 2-20% packet loss, I'm still searching for some incipient broadband technology to hang my hopes on. Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the one that improves my lot. I have great connectivity to local DSLAMs and cellular towers, but there just isn't any bandwidth on the back-end. Everything is copper-fed with just enough T-spans to allow everyone to check their e-mail and update their Facebook status.

    With respect to the auction of more spectrum to telcos, I don't approve. I don't think we, the citizens that are selling our spectrum, are getting a fair deal in exchange. I'd rather see it licensed for educational and hobbyist use or just about anything other than further lining the pockets of AT&T, Verizon, et al.
    Reply
  • rmirwin2
    15128293 said:
    "Spectrums" is not a word! The plural of "spectrum" is "spectra"!
    Actually, either is correct: http://grammarist.com/usage/spectra-spectrums/
    15128293 said:
    "Spectrums" is not a word! The plural of "spectrum" is "spectra"!
    Actually, either is correct: http://grammarist.com/usage/spectra-spectrums/
    I'm standing by the Latin. As a practicing spectroscopist it sounds terrrible. I do appreciate that others apparently choose not to. Interesting that one is recognized in Mirriam-Webster, the other is not.
    Reply
  • rmirwin2
    Sorry to diverge, I'm wrong. Even M-W does list plural form as either "spectra" or "spectrums". Sorry!
    Reply
  • mctylr
    Yes of course we should turn to economists to help solve the problems of wireless communications. The same folks who produced the economic forecasts and analysis that saw the government profit quite handsomely (billion dollar auctions) from the auctions of this same EM spectrum they speak of, back near 2000-05 in North America, Europe, and I suspect elsewhere.

    What these economists and Dr. Reed don't mention is that like colour, radio frequencies are both part of the same electromagnetic spectrum, but just as we can't license, auction, or otherwise invent new colours, we cannot change the inherent principles that vary over different parts of the EM spectrum. That said radio frequencies at 700 MHz don't exhibit all the same characteristics of 2.4GHz (used in 802.11a/b/g). It's easier to generate a large amount of power at 700 MHz than it is for 2.4 GHz, much less of an issue than back in the 1980s, but still relevant in a world increasingly aware of power consumption. The other is that it can easily travel further distance in terrestrial (both end-points being earth based) communications. These two factors mean that users are more likely to experience interference from other uses.

    But what they do gloss over is that applications like spread-spectrum technologies and smart-phones entail a huge R&D investment. The devices are more complex, and thus more expensive to produce per unit, while technology has improved and commercialization has reduce the cost per unit, they are still far more expensive in material and development cost and complexity compared to "dumb" transmission technology. It is not magic, it's an economic trade-off. The cost and complexity of a 1920's crystal radio was essentially a piece of rock (galena), and some wire that you could assemble yourself at home (and many actually did prior to commercialization).

    The other thing is that at 700 MHz you can expect to only allocate one or two "channels" (20-40 MHz per channel in existing WiFi AFAIK) to utilize so as to prevent interference with your neighbour's 700 MHz Wi-Fi. Unless you want to overlap with radio frequencies allocated for first responders (police, fire, etc.) because I can't imagine anyone abusing that situation.

    The risk of over-simplification is that you miss the details that actual are relevant.

    And I would never expect an economist to fix my bathroom sink or build a house, why should I expect them to solve EE / RF issues. Perhaps they could spend time working on you know, the economy, least they fear admitting they are typically well-dressed, well-spoken clueless about their specialization, and would have to real job otherwise.
    Reply
  • jasonelmore
    isnt 470 used for GPMRS radio comm's and HAM radio
    Reply
  • zodiacfml
    It could be useful though for low power and low bit rate gateways for the internet of things/sensors which could have a signal throughout a house or one floor of a building.
    Reply
  • pjmelect
    The spectrum is green.
    Reply
  • spp85
    Super Wi-Fi seems like a very good idea to me. This can get rid of the cumbersome DTH services all together in my country at least.
    Reply