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Shirky: Spectrum as resource
August 16, 2004 12:52 PM   Subscribe

A nice article on some of the engineering and economics aspects of WiFi, and the history of frequency regulation in the USA.
posted by freebird (9 comments total)

 
[this is good]
posted by quonsar at 1:16 PM on August 16, 2004


"The Possibility of Spectrum as a Public Good..."

I like it already.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:32 PM on August 16, 2004


Economist this week also has an excellent piece on this subject.
posted by louie at 3:50 PM on August 16, 2004


Here is the catch.

Spectrum is abundant if and only if you buy into particular technologies that complicate the process of encoding and decoding a radio signal. The nice thing about AM, FM, SSB, CW, and basic digital modes like RTTY and PACTOR is that transmitters and receivers can be built using commodity components that cost pennies.

The result could just be shifting control of radio communications from the people who own the towers and repeaters, to the people who make the chips and the software.

Of course, I'd really like to see HF and VHF spead-spectrum. But I'm skeptical that this really will result in a democritization of radio.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:10 PM on August 16, 2004


I probably should add that it is quite possible that the very limited monopoly that is provided for by technology patents might be more benevolent in the long run than spectrum licensing. However that remains to be seen.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:18 PM on August 16, 2004


The result could just be shifting control of radio communications from the people who own the towers and repeaters, to the people who make the chips and the software.

OK, but even by your logic, isn't that better? Even without arguing that WiFi - type components can be (or are) commodified, the chips and software are already much cheaper than the towers and repeaters. So at the very least, it's being shifted to a larger class of people with a lower cost-to-entry?
posted by freebird at 4:55 PM on August 16, 2004


That interference is a function of the receiving equipment is best illustrated by pointing out that you have no problem seeing both an apple and a stop sign at the same time, and choosing which one to pay attention to and which one to ignore despite the fact that they're both red and both visible to you at the same time, particularly if one is not right in front of the other. Apart from not being precisely the the same shade of red, they have any number of distinguishing visual properties which your eyes and brain have no problem picking out, and they
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:40 PM on August 16, 2004


Phooey. ...and they don't "interfere" with each other in the slightest.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:40 PM on August 16, 2004


freebird: OK, but even by your logic, isn't that better? Even without arguing that WiFi - type components can be (or are) commodified, the chips and software are already much cheaper than the towers and repeaters. So at the very least, it's being shifted to a larger class of people with a lower cost-to-entry?

Actually, the cost-to-entry for radio communications is trivially slim for a person willing to do a small amount of work. The wire for a 40 meter dipole that can talk to Russia will probably cost more than the radio its self.

Perhaps its just my native digerati-turned-luddite skepticism at work here, but I have a lot of doubts that spread spectrum will mean a micro-powered alternative radio station on every corner. What is being argued for here is that rather than leasing the right to broadcast on a frequency to a cellular tower that connects to POTS, you will be leasing the right to send packets on a VPN that connects to POTS or a wired internet backbone.

GS: That interference is a function of the receiving equipment is best illustrated by pointing out that you have no problem seeing both an apple and a stop sign at the same time, and choosing which one to pay attention to and which one to ignore despite the fact that they're both red and both visible to you at the same time, particularly if one is not right in front of the other.

That interference is a function of many different aspects of a communications system, is best demonstrated by pointing out that police have a nice strategy for bewildering suspects at night by shining a light in their eyes.

What you point out is that quite a bit can be overcome using intelligent receiving and decoding systems. The eyes of mammals is porobably the best example of an intelligent receiving and decoding system. As Stephen Pinker points out, it is a receiving and decoding system that to date has not been replicated using elecronic or computer technology.

However, to some degree we have to work with what we have. I would argue that modes such as AM, FM, SSB and CW still have valuable uses that should not be eliminated willy nilly.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:25 PM on August 17, 2004


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