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Report

Radio Revolution

The Coming Age of Unlicensed Wireless
  • By Kevin Werbach, Founder, The Supernova Group
December 15, 2003 |

We stand at the threshold of a wireless paradigm shift. New technologies promise to replace scarcity with abundance, dumb terminals with smart radios able to adapt to their surroundings, and government defined licenses with flexible sharing of the airwaves. Early examples suggest that such novel approaches can provide affordable broadband connections to a wide range of users.

These are not just incremental advances. The fundamental assumptions governing radio communication since its inception no longer hold. The static wireless paradigm is giving way to dynamic approaches based on cooperating systems of intelligent devices. It is time for policy-makers to consider how regulation should change in response.

The radio revolution is the single greatest communications policy issue of the coming decade, and perhaps the coming century. The economics of entire industries could be transformed. Every significant public policy challenge could be implicated: competition; innovation; investment; diversity of programming; job creation; equality of access; coverage for rural and underserved areas; and promotion of education, health care, local communities, public safety, and national security. Yet the benefits of the paradigm shift are not guaranteed. Exploiting the radio revolution will require creativity and risk-taking by both the private and public sectors. At every step, there will be choices between preserving the status quo and unleashing the forces of change. The right answers will seem obvious only in hindsight.

The only way to appreciate the opportunity before us is to comprehend the fundamentals of radio communication, and the profound ways they are changing. For all its significance to daily life and economic activity, wireless technology is poorly understood. This paper seeks to explain the established "static" wireless paradigm, the emerging "dynamic" alternative, and the implications of the coming revolution.

For the complete document, please see the attached PDF version below.

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