Why Open Wireless?


Wireless communication has fundamentally changed the way we use technology and do business. It’s easy to take for granted the ubiquitous nature of wireless services in the United States today, especially as LTE rolls out providing more robust options. The speed with which data-hungry devices are being adopted, teamed with a limited amount of available spectrum, has led to what some call a “spectrum crunch,” contributing to problems like dropped calls and stalled downloads as well as data caps and other pricing mechanisms aimed at limiting ever-growing data consumption.

In light of these issues, Engine has joined with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 11 other groups to support the Open Wireless Movement, a coalition of advocates, companies, organizations, and technologists working to develop wireless technologies and to encourage internet openness. Strengthening the wireless ecosystem isn’t just about bad service on your iPhone or poaching your neighbor’s WiFi; effective, efficient, and secure wireless communication options will propel future innovation and economic growth.

The Open Wireless Movement is about more than wireless hotspots. It links service providers, businesses, and engineers to develop networks around the country that are free, secure, and reliable for everyone. By emphasizing the benefits of sharing, we aim to create new ways of thinking about the wireless ecosystem.

Now you might say, “The Federal Communications Commission is planning new spectrum auctions in the next few years. What’s the problem?”

Even with new blocks of spectrum up for auction, the demand for wireless data is projected to continue to grow rapidly. If we don’t change the way we approach spectrum through public policy and private deployment, we will limit opportunities for startups to create new products by harnessing wireless technologies.

Doing so will require not just forward-thinking policies, but a move toward open and shared technologies. Focusing on -- and increasing the success of -- unlicensed technologies like Bluetooth, WiFi, and RFID will be central to our success. These technologies have empowered innovators to experiment with and build low-cost, reliable devices and protocols that have led to the rise of successful segments of the technology ecosystem.

New auctions ought to continue the FCC’s track record of creating fair markets for commercial-use spectrum for wireless carriers. These auctions should increase their focus on access to spectrum for small and regional wireless companies that can push innovation in local communities.

We must also recognize that the use of auctions and unlicensed technologies is not a zero-sum game. WiFi and carrier-owned spectrum have proven to be exceptional complements. Moves to marginalize unlicensed spectrum allocations or artificially increase auction prices harm consumers, innovators, and businesses. Recommendations made by the White House in July that the federal government share some of its spectrum with commercial users may increase our access to the public resource, opening the door to even more technologies that will push innovation forward.

The Open Wireless Movement is one step in a broader rethink of how we access the internet. Engine is excited to be on board and we encourage you to read more about the project, learn how you can promote the cause, volunteer to help engineer new wireless solutions, or get updated on how to make your wireless network part of the movement.

Image via Wikimedia Commons