Super WiFi Summit Takeaways

I just returned from the “Super WiFi Summit” in Austin, TX (Oct 3-5).  The range of speakers – from major companies including Microsoft and Texas Instrument to start-up entrepreneurs and various policy experts (including Blaire Levin and Michael Calabrese as well as some international policymakers)  indicated a robust WiFi industry.  A general theme was ne of disappointment in the limited regulatory support for increased whitespace spectrum in the FCC’s NPRM for the Broadcast incentive auctions.  Several ideas were floated to ease the spectrum crunch by allowing increased spectrum flexibility, particularly via spectrum sharing.  There was a general belief that if the industry can show significant technical progress and market acceptance, the spectrum will eventually be made available.  But the fear was that without additional spectrum guarantees, it will be harder to garner additional investment to make those advances possible.

My general thoughts were that as spectrum sharing technology improves, the once unquestionable belief that service providers need exclusive use of spectrum to justify the investment in building out services on that spectrum will erode.  At the same time, it’s clear the FCC needs a more flexible framework to allow faster spectrum reallocation in an increasingly dynamic communications sector.  Spectrum sharing fits the bill — except that it does not generate revenue for the government at a time when budget deficits high and the U.S. Treasury is looking for revenue from all possible sources including spectrum auctions.  A few creative ideas were floated about paying for spectrum on an annual or even a per-use basis.