For the past day, I’ve been at a small workshop on spectrum policy hosted by the Aspen Institute. Aspen regularly assembles key figures from the government, private sector and academia to frame emerging communications and Internet policy issues. This one was interesting. I was there to advocate open spectrum and unlicensed wireless technologies, like 802.11/WiFi. It was heartening to see the level of awareness about WiFi among the lawyers, economists, lobbyists and policy-makers. They realize something important is going on here. Still, most of them were shocked when I mentioned there are now 1.5 million WiFi cards being sold every month.
The conceptual shift remains difficult for many people to make. Thanks to advances in technology, we don’t necessarily need any mechanism to assign wireless spectrum bands to particular companies. The “tragedy of the commons” isn’t inevitable if devices are smart enough to coexist with one another. WiFi is taking off in large part because equipment vendors and users don’t need to go to a service provider for permission to set up networks. They just do it.