The Bush Administration announced a plan on Tuesday to free up 90 Mhz of spectrum for 3G mobile services. As Glenn Fleishman explains, there’s less here than meets the eye. The bigger issue is that the most exciting developments in the wireless realm have nothing to do with 3G — they involve unlicensed technologies.
It’s not that high-bandwidth packet-switched wide-area mobile communications (what 3G promises) is a bad thing. The trouble is that 3G is put forth as the holy grail of wireless communications. In reality, it isn’t. It won’t really do half the things its proponents promise (200 kbps streaming movies to your cellphone, for example), even if there were real business models for those services (which there aren’t). And if you think making the spectrum available is the hard part, look at Europe. Most of the mobile phone industry there is on the verge of bankruptcy because it overpaid for 3G spectrum licenses.
What we need to do is make spectrum cheap rather than eking out more expensive spectrum. For spectrum to become cheap, it must become abundant. The way to do so is to facilitate implementation of unlicensed technologies, through an open spectrum model.
The wireless future will be a patchwork of different technologies, because no one standard or service works perfectly in every case. That’s true for both licensed and unlicensed approaches. The scariest thing about the march to 3G is the ideology that states that this is **the** future of wireless. Don’t believe the hype.