• Freedom
  • Innovation
  • Growth

What's Wrong With the Wi-Fi?

“What’s wrong with the Wi-Fi?” came the complaint from the other room. And I had to admit that I had been noticing the same thing—web pages seemed to be taking forever to load on my tablet.

A little investigation revealed the problem: We were streaming Christmas music wirelessly through the house and everyone was doing something on a portable device.  That’s all it took to cause noticeable (and irritating) congestion on our home wireless network.

How quickly everything has gone mobile! It seems almost primitive to be shackled to an Ethernet connection, even if the machine is on a desk in the same room. We want to be connected, continuously, but we don’t want to be tied to a desk.  We want to be lounging about, walking around, lying in bed, just about anywhere other than in a location dictated by an Ethernet jack.

And because we want connected access to everything, that means just about everything is moving to wireless. As mobile devices become our primary points of access, and as more and more services are being delivered to them, the demand upon our wireless networks is increasing dramatically, including demand upon the unlicensed spectrum used by Wi-Fi.

Mobile carriers have realized the advantages of off-loading traffic from their networks onto available Wi-Fi, and that trend will only continue. Perhaps more interesting, Qualcomm has indicated that there is no reason why 4G LTE traffic can’t move through Wi-Fi networks just as easily—perhaps more easily—than it does through the mobile carriers’ licensed spectrum.

The solution to all of this is more licensed spectrum made available and put to better and more efficient uses. But it also means more unlicensed spectrum, such as that used by our Wi-Fi networks.

This continuing need for new spectrum—both licensed and unlicensed—means the Federal Communications Commission’s highest priority should be bringing more of both online, and as quickly as possible. Spectrum auctions bring revenue into the federal coffers, so for spectrum that has been allocated to be auctioned, it’s important that the value of the spectrum not be diminished by restrictions and conditions, or by trying to micromanage competition, such as has happened with the H block auction.

But federal revenue should not be the only driver behind spectrum policy; it’s also important to ensure that sufficient unlicensed spectrum is cleared and set aside for other innovations, especially for new forms of Wi-Fi with more bandwidth and faster speeds.

Federal spectrum policy should be about facilitating an environment of innovation, and that includes both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. If policymakers see spectrum simply as a means of raising federal revenue, the result will be distorted spectrum policy to the detriment of wireless innovation.