Spectrum Bridge's SpecEx "spectrum-renting" service was on my list of things to write about.
I saw a recent mention of it on DailyWireless.Org. Sam said "It sounds like a pretty good idea." But then is honest / pragmatic enough to continue - "Spectrum Bridge is also a Dailywireless advertiser."
I disagree with Sam, and this will probably cost me any chance of having Spectrum Bridge as a sponsor of BWIA / WiMAX News, but the basic premise of Spectrum Bridge - that "renting" the use of spectrum for short periods of time is, in a word, impractical.
Renting spectrum for short periods of time (a few hours) is an idea that the communications attorneys love. The spectrum owner retains full "rights" to "their" spectrum, and realizes some revenue from it for short periods of time.
Engineers, when asked, will probably concede that the idea could be implemented in a combination of software, hardware, and networking. It could be made to work. In theory.
In practice... if we can't sort things out to mutual satisfaction in the billing of landline usage*, it's unimaginable to me how ugly the billing disputes will be about something like what Spectrum Bridge is proposing. How do you verify that a customer used the particular spectrum it's "renting" for only the period that was paid for... or that it was able to use that spectrum unimpeded for the agreed-upon period? How would you audit / verify such disputes absent an incredible monitoring infrastructure? How would you mediate such disputes? The FCC isn't going to help on things like this - all they know is who a particular portion of spectrum in a particular geographic area is licensed to. What use that licensee uses that spectrum for after that is up to the licensee, as long as they adhere to the band limits, geographic limitations, and technical specifications.
The FCC is almost entirely composed of lawyers, most of which have very little grounding in the fundamental, technological realities of making effective use of spectrum. (I think the relatively few engineers at the FCC are the real brains of the outfit.) So it follows that the FCC thinks that entities like Spectrum Exchange might work.
Spectrum leasing is a decent idea, and can and does work, but only when done for longer periods of time.
The trouble in trying to do spectrum leasing very short term (hours, days, weeks, months) is that it's really tough, in the real world, to coordinate the usage of spectrum between the base stations and the remote units. Yes, in theory, it can be done. The base stations can be notified that, in a particular area, use of particular leased spectrum is permitted for a certain time, and the base stations can control the remote units. But we're a long way from that kind of flexibility in the real world.
And in the end, for the expense and effort involved in trying to make your network handle the leasing of spectrum, you're better off investing that same time and effort into optimizing your network to better utilize the spectrum you've got. You can "create" more spectrum by changing your coverage - smaller, more localized base stations means that you can reuse your existing spectrum more often. Yes, that's expensive, but doesn't it make more sense to invest in a permanent solution investing money in a solution that only means that you'll keep paying, and paying?
I've thought a lot about this issue over the years, and Spectrum Exchange isn't the first implementation of this idea. Cantor Fitzgerald created Cantor Spectrum Exchange (now Cantor Spectrum and Tower Exchange) as the (as far as I'm aware) first public / open such service. (There had been private spectrum brokerages for years operating within various telecommunications law firms for companies that wanted to negotiate swaps and purchases of spectrum "quietly".) I haven't heard from, or talked to, the principals behind CSATE for years now, but I thought that it was a good idea then, and now - an web-based, open brokerage for the leasing and purchase of spectrum, but unlike Spectrum Exchange, the Cantor service was intended for longer-term leasing of spectrum.
Here's the bottom line for me on this issue. Spectrum is a fungible thing. Spectrum should either be used, or given up for someone else to use. Spectrum isn't inherently "property" - if you aren't actively using it (the numerous PCS, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz allocations in more rural areas come immediately to mind), then you shouldn't be able to prevent another entity from using it. All that a spectrum license should buy you is a priority - it shouldn't come with the right to prevent others from using spectrum that is vacant.
*Ask any service provider what it's like to deal with carriers about billing issues involving high-capacity circuits like T-1's, T-3's, etc. The only conclusion you can make after hearing enough of these stories is that the carriers consider egregious billing errors as a core competency and business-as-usual high-profit revenue generation. Billing from carriers to service providers has devolved to the point that some smaller ISPs that I've talked to disputing every bill through their state's Public Service Commission - every bill, every month, because the carrier's bill is always wrong, provable simply by comparing the bill against the written contract. Larger ISPs simply have a lawyer on retainer, or on staff, that sorts things out with routine "we're going to sue you if you don't fix the bill" letters.
By Steve Stroh
This article is Copyright © 2008 by Steve Stroh except for specifically-marked excerpts. Excerpts and links are expressly permitted (and encouraged).
This article was written and posted via Broadband Wireless Internet Access (BWIA) ; Sprint Mobile Broadband service using a Sierra Wireless 595U USB modem - 1xEV-DO Rev. A on a MacBook Pro laptop.