‘Tis the season of wonder and wishing, after all, so here goes. At the top of my wish list for wireless has always been having not just one, but rather multiple electromagnetic spectra, kind of like having more channels, but in a very big way. Since we’re going to have to wait for the next edition of the universe (and maybe longer) to see that one, though, I’d like to offer a few somewhat more mundane but still, I think, very significant suggestions for the optimal application of wireless.
Making the most of any resource or capability has always been a key to success no matter what the endeavor. Just as the relative scarcity of spectrum (hence my point above) forces us to get creative and efficient in both thought and action, such should also be the case in all other aspects of wireless as well. Inefficient use of spectrum is equivalent to a perishable commodity – once the opportunity to use that capacity is lost, it’s gone, and forever. Applications and services that can’t be implemented for one reason or another, often related to spectrum policy or cost, are in that same boat – lost opportunities for improved quality of life, lifestyle, profit, or whatever you might be after. Make the best use of available resources; get the best result. That’s always true.
So, with that as preamble, here’s my list:
- Network neutrality – This is herein loosely defined as any app on any network, with no carrier discrimination (including data caps) except perhaps via traffic prioritization and corresponding pricing (pay more, get to the front of the queue more often). Even with spectrum licensing, the airwaves still belong to the people, not the licensee. All legal traffic must be forwarded, even if it’s competitive in nature with the carrier’s objectives. FCC rulings during 2011 on this topic help, but the battle’s really just beginning.
- Open access – Defined here as the ability to use any device on any compatible network. The carriers have become gatekeepers as to what devices we can use and how these devices are configured; this stifles innovation and drives up the prices we pay. And, along these lines, we need an open market for handsets independent of the carriers. A competitive market here, as with network services, is in the best interests of users. And I’m tired of being locked into a given handset for two years just to get a discount that a truly competitive market might largely address.
- Open app stores – a free market for apps seems like a no-brainer. How is Apple getting away with their closed approach? Lemme get this straight, I buy the phone and then the vendor tells me what I can do with it? And I have to buy any apps from them alone? Are they kidding? Is that even legal?
- Demand allocation of spectrum – Spectrum auctions and licensing, while just swell if you’re a government looking for cash, have been a disaster if one is looking for optimal use of that precious resource. Essentially all spectrum should be demand-allocated, with fees charged only to those who reserve spectrum for a single application, like broadcasting – the opposite, by the way, of the way things work today. There’s rarely a need for spectrum to be reserved to a carrier if a traffic-prioritization scheme is implemented, and all of this is easy with modern cognitive radios and flexible communication protocols. Look to the database-drive cognitive-radio approach being pursued in the White Spaces for a look at how it should be.
- Shared connections and plans – I’m in favor of data plans being attached to the customer, not a given device. Using multiple wireless devices can get very, very expensive; connections should always be sharable (if, need be, serially used) and without tethering fees. And we have “family share” plans for voice – why not data?
- Device quality and reliability – And, while this one could apply to so many areas of technology, I’m really, really tied of bugs, poor documentation, and useless technical support. All the spectrum in the world, though, won’t fix this one. It’s time for device manufacturers to have a little more respect for their customers. Enough with the flashy TV commercials – build products that work and that can be used by mere mortals!
OK, just my $.02. So does current wireless policy, from the government or the carriers, really optimize for the needs of those of us who ultimately pay the bills? I’m just asking; more questions (and an answer or two) in 2012. In the meantime, here’s wishing all of you all the best for the holidays and the New Year.