WiFi on steroids

Posted on November 14, 2008  /  4 Comments

Chanuka posted the story before the Economist, but it may still be worthwhile reading what the take is from the headquarters of free market thinking:

White space could be even bigger. The frequencies involved were chosen for television back in the 1950s for good reason: they travel long distances, are hardly affected by the weather, carry lots of data, and penetrate deep into the nooks and crannies of buildings. No surprise proponents have dubbed them “WiFi on steroids”.

Once the changeover from analog to digital broadcasting is complete, the television networks will no longer need the white spaces between analog channels to prevent interference from noise and other transmissions. Apart from digital broadcasts being far less vulnerable to interference, there’s now plenty of frequency-hopping technology around for detecting digital broadcasts and avoiding them.

The full treatment is here. The qualification is the same that we insisted on when WiFi came on the scene. The business model that works in countries where the network is mature and access to the backbone is available, low-cost and non-discriminatory, does not work in countries where those conditions do not exist. Divakar Goswami’s analysis of WiFi use in Indonesia clearly showed the limitations of thinking that technology alone can fix our connectivity problems. But of course that does not mean we are not for White Space. We need to free it up, and do a number of other things along with that to gain the benefits.

And, don’t forget, our mandarins are not thinking about the analog-to-digital transition; they are busy trying to strangle the private media. They have no interest is reducing scarcity; only in creating the conditions for extracting rent from it. So we have a long way to go before we get the white space.


  1. A bit of a straw man argument, Rohan. I don’t think the Economist or anyone else for that matter is a suggesting that opening up WhiteSpaces spectrum is a panacea. Surely an opportunity such as this to open new avenues for last mile connectivity deserves a little better than the damning with faint praise you give it. One might have imagined that LirneAsia would take the opportunity to advocate for access to this spectrum in Sri Lanka in anticipation of whitespace devices coming to market. Not a panacea but a pretty remarkable opportunity just the same. If not you then who? :-)

  2. Freeing up the whitespace in the US will spur innovations in ways we cannot possibily conceive. More pipes reaching consumers is a good thing–more alternatives, greater competition. The White Spaces coalition is composed of tech firms that are far more nimble and innovative than telcos. They can and will eat the lunch of carriers if they can deploy new mobility services and devices on a truly open network.

    Despite the “open access” mantra being chanted by telcos, they still dictate the functionality of mobile devices and the services that can be offered over their network. They will not readily ease their strangle-hold over such a lucrative bottleneck. Alternative pipes can bypass and render the bottelnecks less valuable and force telcos to play nice with other players in the value chain.

    It will be at least 2-3 years before this transition occurs in the US. By then who knows what the state of governance and infrastructure is in this part of the world.

  3. The world needs both kinds Steve. You be the booster; we’ll soberly assess the applicability to the ground situation in developing countries.

    And work on the preconditions as we’ve done in : http://lirneasia.net/2008/01/us-to-auction-700-mhz-spectrum-reclaimed-from-broadcasters/ and in http://lirneasia.net/2008/09/m-powering-india-mobile-communications-for-inclusive-growth/

    We can gush all we want about potential but unless the transition to digital occurs it will be just words.

  4. You speak as if enthusiasm were somehow anti-scientific. Well, perhaps you should “soberly” re-read your response and ask yourself who is engaging dispassionate discourse. Gushing from South Africa… Steve