Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Most Important Wireless Conference of the Year — IS4CWN '08

There are an endless number of conferences out there, many of them quite good. But there is one conference I never skip if I can possibly make it — the International Summit For Community Wireless.

Why? You won’t find billion dollar CEOs or announcements of major product releases or huge deals. This year, owing to its location in Washington D.C., there will be some very good speakers (such as FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein — one of the great friends of community wireless at the Commission). And I and fellow Washington public interest conspirators will be hatching our plots for the new Administration. But that’s not why this is, in my opinion, the most important conference I attend.

This conference is the biggest collection of people I know who do things — and talk about them without worrying about non-disclosure agreements. These are the folks providing wireless connectivity in urban neighborhoods were folks can’t afford DSL; or who have figured out how to store, share and tag local content on wifi network in a safe manner that transforms a hot spot from an access point to the internet to a source of rich local media. It’s where I can hear about the innovations in mesh or deployment that are taking place on a daily basis as people deploy systems and play with equipment and code. It’s where I learned about how a city in Chile is improving the efficiency of city services because they asked local people “what is your biggest problem that we can solve with a wifi network” and the answer was “empty the garbage dumpsters when they get full.” It’s a place to find out how people are changing lives with unlicensed wireless technologies, and coordinating better how to get that story told.

For me, it gives meaning to my work. Because what I do doesn’t mean jack unless it actually changes people’s lives. (You can see the speech I gave at the second Summit on Community Wireless here, and here the speech I gave last year here (feel free to skip the intro by Sascha, which contains reference to things that never happened and I was somewhere else at the time so it could not have been me anyway.) But for everyone else, whether you are a policy wonk who wants to see how spectrum policy changes people’s lives, or a technogeek looking for cool toys, or a venture capitalist scouting for the next Big Thing to come out of the weeds, this is the place to be.

Fourth International Summit on Community Wireless Networking
May 28-30
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
1200 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How To Give America Wireless Broadband For Christmas 2009 — the Lesson from 3.65 GHz Deployment.

Granted for me it would be Chanukah not Christmas, but I think a real kick ass wireless network with oodles of competition and nifty new gadgets would make such a good present for America for Christmas 2009. And, as the reports from the field on the piece of wireless spectrum the FCC opened up last June show us, the FCC can bring it to us by opening the broadcast “white spaces”.

Sascha Meinrath, a serious partner in crime in spectrum reform, has some data from the field on deployment of equipment in the 3.65 GHz band the FCC finally opened for real in June 2007. Now, a mere 6 month later, Sascha reports on wireless ISPs (WISPs) using this band in the field to deliver broadband. As Sascha writes:

WISPs have been leading the charge and people are reporting 15km non-line-of-sight (NLOS) connectivity with 3650-3700 MHz (operating at 10W) — which is a huge boost over 802.11. Meanwhile, capacity seems to be hovering around 15 MB per 7.5 MHz (or 20MB per 10MHz) — so 100MB connections over 15km without line of sight are quite feasible using this band. All in all, that’s pretty impressive for first-generation equipment. The equipment vendor Aperto is claiming that their new equipment will get 20MB per 7MHz (so you can see the development curve is already fairly steep).

To give you a feel for the real-world implications, folks testing things out reported, “6mb/s indoor at 2 miles NLOS. The base station was a 1 sector install using diversity at approximately 50ft up on tower using 120 degree sectors” — try to get that with an 802.11 access point.

Allow me to draw a few policy implications from this. The lead time from settling the rules to actual deployment of services took six months. By contrast, we have not yet seen any significant deployment in the AWS spectrum auctioned 18 months ago. Yes, some of that was due to the delay of some government licensees in migration. But much also has to do with the nature of licensed v. unlicensed networks. Licensed networks require huge investment of time, resources, standardization of equipment, etc., etc. By contrast, unlicensed networking equipment can be built, certified and deployed effectively relatively quickly.

Policy makers should take note of this in the debate over the broadcast white spaces, aka the vacant channels on the broadcast dial. Broadcasters and some large carriers (like Sprint and T-Mobile) want to see the white spaces licensed rather than opened to unlicensed use. The current broadcast spectrum auction will not begin to bear broadband fruit until 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. And if the FCC were to decide to license the white spaces, we could expect similar lengthy delays while the FCC devised auction rules, held an auction, then waited for the winners to (hopefully) deploy something useful.

Given the continued laggard pace of our national broadband, shouldn’t the FCC learn from its success in the 3.65 GHz band? Licensed and unlicensed networks complement each other, each offering different capabilities. We have taken the first steps toward building the licensed wireless networks in the broadcast spectrum. Why not unleash unlicensed in the white spaces? If the FCC approved rules now, it would practically guarantee that devices could be certified and deployed as soon as we completed the digital transition. Indeed, given the backing of the broadcast white spaces by so many different developers, as compared to the relatively modest backing for 3.65 GHz, the probability of seeing a plethora of wireless networking devices and consumer products available to Americans by Christmas season 2009 rises to almost a certainty. By contrast, we will be lucky if the winners of the 700 MHz licenses will have broken ground on their first towers by then.

Doesn’t America deserve a kick ass wireless network for Christmas 2009? I think so. And if the FCC applies the lesson of its 3.65 GHz success to the broadcast white spaces, we can have one.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Slurpr! Slurpr! For Fun Legal Questions, It's A Wonderful Toy.

Numerous websites that follow wireless news have reported about a new wireless box called Slurpr, which allows someone to aggregate up to six open wifi access points at once. In just about the next sentence, of each of these reports warns of the potential legal consequences of “stealing wifi” by using an open network that the operator does not intend for open use. Or, as Glenn Fleishman put it: “This might get you arrested six times in one day.”

But will it? And, perhaps more importantly, should it? With the rise of applications like FON, wifi enabled phones, and now the introduction of Slurpr, we need to get this issue resolved sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we can expect to see more arrests of folks unaware they are committing a crime and another equipment/application industry killed off by regulatory uncertainty.

As I have argued before, it makes much better legal and policy sense to require access point operators (and the equipment manufacturers who set the defaults) responsible for their own equipment and require them to close a network rather than to require the public to treat all open networks as off limits unless the operator somehow expressly tells the user it’s o.k. Why shouldn’t the act of blasting an open network into a publicly accessible place or onto someone else’s property be sufficient invitation to use the network, especially when it would encourage people to set power levels to appropriate levels and stop imposing interference costs on the rest of us? Why on Earth do we want a legal presumption that imposes obligations on the broader public instead of the operator, makes it much harder for people that actively want to share their networks, and encourages (rather than discourages) interference problems and poor spectrum management? Most especially, why do we do this when creating this presumption actually flies in the face of the usual legal presumptions about intrusions of private property into the public sphere?

The only answer I can come up with is that network technologies appears to have the amazing power of turning certain people’s brains into pudding and making them forget about 10,000 years of human experience of living in urban environments. For further elaboration on these themes, see below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Rethinking the Paradigm: From “Theft of Wi-Fi” to Public Nuisance or “My Noisy Neighbor, Mr. Lynkisis”

This recent piece on mobile phones that use VOIP through open access points has revived the debate on whether your use of an open access point constitutes “theft” of wifi or “tresspass” into my neighbor’s network.

I’d like to suggest that we flip this and ask a different question: is my noisy neighbor Mr. Lynksis, who blasts his access point into my home thus causing interference and potentially screwing up my own network settings, a public nuisance? And if so, what should I do about Mr. Lynksis, the noisy neighbor that I may not even be able to locate with certainty?

As I argue below, I think we should establish by law that any open access point detectable by standard hardware and software is available for public use (assuming I have a legal right to be in the physical location I’m in when I detect the network). Such a law will poduce positive social benefits, whereas a presumption that use of an open access point is “stealing wifi” produces social costs.

My analysis below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Good FCC Order on Unlicensed Released

The FCC has now released the Order it published last week on allowing higher power outputs for “smart antennas.” A copy of the Order in word is available here, and pdf here. My extremely limited analysis below. Headline version: the FCC sidestepped some bad ideas and the order will generally improve the ability of equipment manufacturers and network providers to use unlicensed spectrum more efficiently and at slightly higher powers in existing bands. So call it a good day at the FCC.

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