----- Original Message -----
From: "Matt Gould" Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 12:44 AM
Subject: FW: [news] Sun Setting On Uncle Sam's IT Empire
I think you folks might find this interesting...
This is an excellent article summarising a talk by Dave Farber (ex Chief technology guy for the Federal Communications Commission in the US), with his comments within.
I find especially interesting the part where he notes that government bureaucracy has a place in investing in IT development, but not in directing it, because it has a systemic inability to 'get it'. I've noticed in Canada that when people don't get IT related stuff they want (such as quicker broadband internet rollouts, cheaper telephone service, cable company monopoly regulation, etc.) their anger is often misdirected; it's often not the result of a knowledgeable bureaucracy acting in bad faith, but just a lagging knowledge gap between the issues and the agencies that are tasked with dealing with them but don't 'get it'.
He also aptly notes that the current approach taken towards radio frequency spectrum allotment is not working (by "spectrum" he means cellphone frequencies, generally, and the new spectrum auctions to augment spectrum available for current and future wireless applications such as cellphone and mobile internet connections). There is a colossal amount of spectrum that has been auctioned (and in some cases awarded) to telecommunications companies (in many cases incumbent telephone companies), meaning that they have exclusive rights to any emission in those frequency bands. In most cases, the bulk of investment in wireless technology has focused on deployment in urban areas (ie. Digital cellphones) where spectrum owners wait to make use of the spectrum they own until they are sure of a quick return on investment (ROI). This makes fine business sense, but it leaves an alarming segment of the market (more rural areas, smaller cities, etc.) unserved or underserved - not because there is no demand for services delivered via this spectrum, but because market signals for this demand goes unheard by a few large spectrum owners who do not generally have the granularity required to deliver services on this scale.
Compared to privately owned spectrum, public - or "open" – spectrum comprises a small fraction of the usable frequency band (a couple Mhz at 2.4 Ghz and slightly more near 5 Ghz - known as ISM). This spectrum is free for all to use, so long as their equipment complies with basic FCC
(or Industry Canada) standards. The 802-11 phenomenon that Dr. Farber mentions refers to the equipment standard that operates in these unlicensed spectrum bands. Standardization has led to a large number of manufacturers driving the price for this equipment down to where it has
become available to individuals who want to build their own "last-mile" networks - in other words: a way of delivering the Internet (and any service that runs over it) _where_ and _when_ THEY want, not when private spectrum owners decide to.
This phenomenon of individuals using the commons - in this case unlicensed spectrum - to empower their own network-building is why more and more people are predicting that "3G" networks - ones built by large telecommunications companies like ATT Wireless, Bell Canada, Vodafone, etc. for mobile voice and data applications with have the shortest life yet seen. Their pricing is based on phenomenal sums paid to federal spectrum regulators and for expensive proprietary network equipment, deployed only (at first) in dense areas to support the investment. This leaves a large segment of the population unserved. In many cases, the periphery is similarly underserved by other communications infrastructure (telephone, cable tv, other media, etc.), so the kind of large-scale deployment schemes that will likely be used in 3G wireless
networks will only exacerbate the connectivity gap.
The launch of the first North American so-called "wireless broadband" service by ATT Wireless in Seattle a couple months back illustrates this disconnect. For always-on data transfer capability (through a 2.5G cellphone), ATT charges 0.4 cents per kilobyte, or about 4 cents for an
average email and ~$16usd for a single song encoded in MP3 format.
Compare this to current 802.11b technology that will allow anyone with a laptop and an 802.11b PC card to download the same song, in about 10 seconds, for free, when within range of an individual who has chosen to share their broadband connection over wireless using this technology (802.11 connectivity is not limited to laptops - PDAs like the Compaq iPaq and other handheld devices can connect to 802.11 networks). These "4G" networks that Dr. Farber mentions are popping up everywhere around the world, and not just in large cities. In many cases, they compensate for the lack of connectivity that arises from the coarse granularity of
service from large telecommunications companies who will not or can not respond to the myriad requirements, even _within_ the densely populated urban areas, not to mention more remote regions.
If you're interested, there's more information on community wireless network initiatives that work to narrow this gap - where I am (London's www.consume.net); one in Halifax that I hope to get going (soon at: www.hfxwireless.net); and a general listing (http://www.personaltelco.net/index.cgi/WirelessCommunities). Also email me if you'd like me to pass along the URL for the streaming video of Dr. Farber's talk when it becomes available. As always, I'm happy to try to answer questions or provide more info if you're interested.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of
Sent: September 17, 2001 1:48 PM
Subject: [news] Sun Setting On Uncle Sam's IT Empire
For more information on this item please visit the CANARIE CA*net 3
Internet program web site at http://www.canet3.net/news/news.html
[Some excellent comments and observations on 3G wireless, municipal
fiber networks, etc by former CTO of FCC - BSA]
The following is an article published in the Australian Financial
reporting on a talk I gave at the First Tuesday meeting in the new
IT/residential complex being developed in the Gold Coast in Queensland
There were about 100 + people attending and they were highly interactive. A streaming video was taken and I am trying to get it on line and available for IPers.
Till then this article requires a bit of commentary by me to put certain comments in perspective and to elaborate on the reporters comments. I have inserted then in [..].
I understand this steps on many feet but I believe what I said.
As usual comments are welcome.
Sun Setting On Uncle Sam's IT Empire
Helen Meredith 09/07/2001
Australian Financial Review
The global dominance of the American IT sector was in decline, with its industrial research labs dead and the industry no longer rich, a leading US researcher and academic told a group of technologists on the Gold Coast this week.
Dr David Farber, a former adviser to president Bill Clinton and chief technologist at the Federal Communications Commission, said the US economy was not healthy and the IT industry was perceived to be in deep trouble. ``We are seeing the passing of an era in which we did some grand experiments. The net bubble burst with a vengeance. We had forgotten one very important thing you need a business plan to survive,'' he said.
``Now we are having a healthy dose of reality but it has taken too long to happen. ``In what was once a rich industry, most companies have backed off or destroyed their research. We are creating a lost generation.' [ leading to the lack of new ideas and people to create them] ' The US Government was going to have to accept that industry could no longer fund R&D. Innovation would have to come out of the experimental science labs of the universities. It would be up to the universities to generate the next wave of technology, and to do this they would need government support. If this wasn't forthcoming, the country's IT would be starved of a future.
[One senior manager of USG research is quoted as saying that research in IT is no longer needed since the USG can buy what it needs. My belief is that it will most likely have to buy it from China and other counties who will take the leadership the US is giving up]
[ I added that there are several research labs left -- most notable Microsoft and IBM and that Microsoft's was in the spirit of places like the old Bell Labs while IBM was still active but increasingly obligated to show a profit and thus tended to be short focused]
Dr Farber stressed that the role of government was to supply money and direction but not detail. ``Let the people who know how make the
decisions and we all know that no sane bureaucrat is going to take a gamble [ again a broad evaluation worldwide especially parts of Asia]. What we need them to do is invest,'' he said. The dilemma was that the bureaucracy lacked IT know-how. ``The current Administration [ in the USA] is not hostile to IT,'' Dr Farber said. ``It just doesn't quite get it. One of the things
you find out when you're working in Washington is that decisions made that are critical to our future and that require an understanding of technology are being made in the almost total absence of knowledge.
[ I was making sweeping generalizations as was appropriate given the world. Places like the FCC have access, not enough, to technical input but they are one of the exceptions in a dismal picture]
``We [ the USA] are not alone in this. There are signs of the same thing happening in Australia. You need to get down to Canberra and help government know what the devil it is doing.''
The crisis in the IT industry coincided with the onset of the broadband era. This was about to have a profound effect on society, in which the next 10 years would have as big an impact as computing did in the past 30. The impetus would be the real arrival of optical technology, promising 80 gigabits per wave per strand providing the bandwidth of the entire US
backbone on a single strand.
``This will have a profound impact,'' Dr Farber said. ``TCP/IP [transmission control protocol/internet protocol] will probably not survive this. Packet switching is probably the wrong idea for optical networking. Photons don't like to have things done to them photonic packets
[switching at high speed] look[s] extremely difficult.''
Running broadband to every house would pose particular problems for the incumbents. It seemed likely that municipalities and cities would take on the role of supplying data paths for their inhabitants, on the basis that fibre was no different from services such as electricity and water.
``More and more of us will be un-anchored in the future,'' Dr Farber said. Mobility would be a key component of this. ``There will be a change to the way we do spectrum. It has been wasted,'' he said. ``In the US we have fenced it off, and done nothing with it, like putting barbed wire around empty paddocks [Australianized].There will need to be some redefinition of what it is to own spectrum, perhaps looking at something like the UK approach to public access to land.''
Dr Farber predicts 3G will have the shortest life of any mobile system in history. He describes it as the last of the analog systems, saying: ``When you look at the prices paid, you wonder where they got their accounting from. The 802-11 technology now starting to pop up all over the world
would be the foundation for 4G, becoming a ubiquitous wireless service.''
Dr Farber is the Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunications Systems at the University of Pennsylvania.
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