Radio spectrum as a public resource and femtocells

The radio spectrum, as used for TV and audio broadcasting or for cell phones or for radar or for many other purposes, is considered a public resource. This is because it does not respect property lines or other artificial demarcations between ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ For that reason, governments control the use of the spectrum, especially at frequencies and power levels that easily escape a locale or can cause damage.

Airport scanning devices that allow security personnel to see underneath clothing has recently been in the news. One idea is that these things violate child pornography laws. The frequencies involved are picked just so they will penetrate clothing but no farther like X-rays can.

Personal appliances such as wifi routers, cordless phones, Bluetooth, and wireless thermometers use frequencies and power ranges that limit their range to allow many of these things to exist in a neighborhood and not interfere with each other, much.

The latest gadget to create concerns about stealing spectrum involve telephony – cell phones. The transition from analog to digital TV was forced by the government to, in part, free up some valuable radio spectrum to use to expand broadband I’net access and allow other similar communications. PhysOrg shows the concern in a manner rather typical of their alarmism bent in MagicJack’s next act: disappearing cell phone fees:

It’s sure to draw protest from cellular carriers. The new magicJack uses, without permission, radio waves for which the carriers have paid billions of dollars for exclusive licenses.

For a background on what is going on here, see Femtocells, VOIP, and cordless phones synthesis?. What the PhysOrg comment alarmism misses is the fact there are currently cell phone repeaters that use these frequencies in a legal and appropriate fashion. The issue isn’t the use of radio spectrum, it is the provision of another means, a competing means, of access to the back end of the telephone network.

In some respects, this is analogous to the efforts of the recording industry to restrict distribution of copyrighted material using pre I’net and digital media paradigms. The progress is slow because the opening of new avenues of distribution and ways of selling seem difficult to understand in an operational sense. Reports such as that at PhysOrg show this mental blocking exists in other areas where there is rapid technological change. They can’t even identify the underlying issues in the problems they anticipate. Their view of the future is hide-bound and poorly based on lessons of history or reason.

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