Why Spectrum Is Not Property: The Case for an Entirely New Regime of Wireless Communications Policy

Summary of: Why Spectrum Is Not Property: The Case for an Entirely New Regime of Wireless Communications Policy

Author(s) / Editor(s)

"What we now know about the physics and architecture of RF communications contradicts the 'property' model of spectrum and this paper serves as a call to action to re-architect spectrum using a commons-based model."

Disciplines

Publication Reference

Published in/by
Internet
Date
February 7, 2001

Findings

  • While it is possible to create wireless communication networks in which available capacity grows with the number of users, currently regimes equate spectrum to property and use a property rights based regime to allocate and coordinate usage among multiple technology areas. The result is fixed capacity for each technology area.
  • Introducing cooperation in capacity regimes for wireless networks results in models in which capacity increases as users are added.
  • Models have been proposed in which capacity grows as the square root of the number of users.
  • The author suggests that there are good technical reasons to believe that cooperative networks can be created in which capacity scales proportionally with the number of users.
  • The available options within a particular cooperative wireless network would grow according to Metcalfe's (N^2 for pairwise transactions) and Reed's (2^N for options in forming groups) Laws.
  • The current Internet regime for wired communication was formed from 25 years of innovation in an open and experimental environment and differs significantly from the previous wired communications regime that grew under the control of the telecommunications provider.
  • The author calls for the development of an RF network regime using an open and experimental regime as a starting point to encourage cooperation and innovation in much the same way that the early Internet provided a starting point from which the current Internet was evolved.
  • The article does not discuss whether and how cooperative networks provide for the guaranteed coordinated access to capacity.

Currently, spectrum in wireless networks is allocated using a property based scheme. This solves the problem of interference by providing coordinated access to capacity for users of multiple technologies at the cost of fixing the available capacity for each technology area. Recently, architectures have been proposed that use a cooperative strategy for capacity allocation. These have the advantage of increasing available capacity with the number of users. The author believes that cooperative wireless networks could be created that provide capacity that scales proportional to the number of users. In addition, a cooperative wireless network would have increased options with respect to Metcalfe's Law, the number of pairwise transactions that could occur would grow as N**2, and Reed's Law, the number of groups that could be formed would grow as 2**N.

The author argues that the scaling of capacity available in wireless networks indicates that spectrum does not behave like ordinary property and requires a different commons based allocation and coordination regime one that encourages cooperation among users in order to increase available capacity. No obvious regime exists today. However, the current Internet regime for wired communication was formed from 25 years of innovation in an open and experimental environment. The resulting regime differs significantly from the previous regime that grew under the control of the telecommunications provider. The author calls for the development of a cooperative wireless network regime by starting with an open and experimental regime that encourages cooperation much the same as the starting point for the current Internet regime for wired digital communications.