Blog

Welcome to the XCellAir Blog! A few promises:

  1. Self-promotion will be kept to a minimum and if the occasional blurb on some achievement is jotted down, it’ll be accompanied by a market or technology-related piece or two.
  2. We’ll be posting regularly…otherwise, what’s the point?!
  3. Periodically, the blog will have nothing to do with industry stuff. Our team is comprised of interesting individuals and we’d like to let you see behind the curtain.

Enjoy the reads, join in on the conversation and come back often!

Tragedy or Opportunity?

Posted by Todd Mersch on 15 March 2016

Recently Tim Worstall published an opinion piece in Forbes, “Free Cellphone Bandwidth and the Tragedy of the Commons” based on an article from Reuters covering a similar topic. In both, I was lucky enough to have been quoted regarding the differences between taming unlicensed and licensed spectrum. Both articles focused on the recent move to leverage unlicensed spectrum using technology originally designed for licensed – namely LTE. The Forbes article lauded the need for increased regulation of unlicensed spectrum without which we would face the exhaustion of a public resource. I have to thank the author because it drove me to read the economic theory behind the “tragedy of the commons” – making me a more well-rounded individual. I’ll save you the time, people are selfish (and stupid) so they will fully consume a limited resource even to their own detriment ultimately.

Ok so that’s the background – I do suggest reading both well written though somewhat cerebral articles – but keep this in mind as you do. Unlicensed spectrum is NOT a completely unregulated resource. There are actually well documented and adhered to regulations that set the rules of engagement for using it. This includes transmission power, fair-share behaviors (i.e. listen-before-talk) and so on. Suggesting the best thing to do is to further regulate or start licensing it comes from a shallow understanding of the current state of affairs. Some of the potential issues I highlighted in the Reuters article can be handled by technology (e.g. interference between different technologies in the unlicensed band – the security system example) and should be. I tend not to trust our glorious government to get it right and would rather have a technology solution – ultimately an economic solution – handle the challenge.

That being said, with a technology like LTE entering into the realm of unlicensed – one has to pause. Can something designed in a way that is diametrically opposed to fair-share really play by the rules? Do the entities designing it truly see a benefit if they do play nicely? Wi-Fi was born out of the IETF, an academic and “net-head” organization with commercial aims secondary. LTE-U will ultimately end up in the 3GPP and today is defined by a few corporations. Do the rules in place today sufficiently handle the new kid on the block? Is LTE-U a bully or buddy? Too early to tell in my estimation, but it does make sense for the regulators to dig a little deeper.

There is an opportunity to enable the benefits of this interesting new technology while avoiding the “tragedy of the commons,” but can Washington, namely the FCC, step up?

One response to “Tragedy or Opportunity?”

  1. Tim Worstall says:

    Just to pick up on this point:

    ” Can something designed in a way that is diametrically opposed to fair-share really play by the rules? Do the entities designing it truly see a benefit if they do play nicely?”

    To refer back to my “more cerebral” article. This is the Elinor Ostrom answer, for which she got the Nobel. If the entities can play fair then nothing else is needed. However, if there’s too many entities (approximately, a few thousand) then we find that playing fair isn’t really possible with human beings. That’s when we move to:

    “I tend not to trust our glorious government to get it right and would rather have a technology solution – ultimately an economic solution – handle the challenge.”

    Either the government regulates, and you’re right, not always that well, or we move to an economic solution of payment for the property rights to spectrum.

    That’s the outcome of that economics. Small groups can be left to sort it out themselves, larger ones need either regulation or property rights.

    Don’t know enough about the technology to know which applies: but I can assure you it will be one of those three.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *