Spectrum is a nonrivalrous resource

David Reed , on the panel following Larry Lessig's talk, is speaking about a fundamental flaw at the heart of the FCC's management of spectrum. The FCC assumes that spectrum is rivalrous. It isn't:

We now know that we can arrange for the capacity of a fixed amount of spectrum in a fixed volume of space to increase as the number of users increases.

Here's the example. Two independent research projects (Tim Shepard in his MIT Ph.D. thesis, and Gupta and Kumar of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in a recent paper) have shown that the capacity of "spectrum" can be managed so that it increases with the number of users. The key idea is to organize the spectrum users into a cooperative network rather than an uncoordinated set of point-to-point channels. As the number of users N increases, the capacity can grow as N1/2 (the square root of N) in the architectures they suggest. Thus, the more users that make up the network, the more capacity the network can carry.

We need a regime that allows RF networks to interoperate and cooperate in use of "spectrum" in an open and experimental way, just as the Internet did. [ David Reed ]

The room we're sitting in is a great place to ponder the implications of Reed's argument. Most of us at this conference have never before breathed such data-rich air. Spectrum scales far beyond what we imagine, Reed says. It does so for reasons related to Reed's law of group-forming networks . Can this myth of scarcity be successfully challenged?

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/05/16.html#a244