A battle for control over wireless broadband innovation

You probably have a WiFi connection at home for wireless internet access. You may have heard about WiMAX (and the European version called “Hiperman“) which you can think of as city-wide (or a theoretical 31 mile radius) large scale wireless internet access. What you probably haven’t heard of is a new technology offering called “xMax” which appears to be magic.

Oh….if it were only so easy to simply get excited about ubiquitous (and either free or low cost) internet access without a governmental, micromanagement tug-of-war occurring first:

  • Congressman Pete Sessions (who also happens to be a former telecom executive) has introduced a bill, H.R. 2726 (PDF here), that would prevent cities from establishing their own Wi-Fi networks. The intent is to prohibit municipal governments from offering telecommunications, information, or cable services except to remedy market failures by private enterprise to provide such services.
  • In opposition, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have  introduced legislation that specifically permits municipalities to offer low-cost broadband service and have made it a part of their previously announced Community Broadband Act of 2005. Their intent? To amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services.

Still…being in a tug-of-war is precisely what they’re there for and my respect and admiration for Senator McCain grows all the time. He “gets” that the job of government is to be a catalyst to incubate innovation vs. protecting special interests and tying up innovators with regulation.

Innovation Driving this Legislation The competing legislative activity above is happening because of the possibility of a massive disruption happening within the telecom (both wired and cellular), cable, and internet service provider sectors should internet access be as easy to consume as breathing the free air all around us. If local governments offer ubiquitous internet access for free or as a low cost public utility, why wouldn’t you use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone for calling freely and what would this do to the telephony wired and wireless industries? If you could get fast wireless access for free or really cheap in your home, why use cable for internet access?

There are security concerns that are only peripherally being discussed around both of these bills. If you were the FBI or in the Dept. of Homeland Security, how could you identify someone on a totally open wireless network (see yesterday’s post which discusses Trusted Computing and built-in machine/device identification making this less of an issue if you’re in law enforcement). Perhaps there’s an analysis going on that has been reported. I haven’t seen anything yet.

It’s gotta be tough to be in Congress and try to balance and anticipate what’s coming in technology. Thought I’ve not done due diligence on a new flavor of wireless broadband dubbed, “xMax” (from a company called xG Technology, LLC) which purports to do what is seemingly magic: “By combining elements of traditional narrowband carrier systems with key elements found in low-power wideband systems, xMax delivers data rates orders of magnitude higher than other broadband approaches without causing harmful interference to neighboring spectrum users.

xMax uses xG Flash SignalingTM to transmit wideband data at power levels up to 100,000 times below FCC regulated power limits and up to 10,000 times below that of ultra wideband (UWB) emissions.  Because xMax only requires a narrow slice of dedicated spectrum to coordinate its xG Flash Signal, it is ideally suited for wireless deployments in piecemeal, low-frequency, channel allocations.

Whether or not this is real is a moot point since demand for faster and faster internet access is there and the technology available to deploy ubiquitous wireless internet access exists right now.  xMax is proprietary intellectual property (vs. the industry standard and supported 802.16) which has proven to slow adoption dramatically…if at all. However, if xMax ends up truly being “orders of magnitude” faster, who knows.

Bottom line? The battle is being waged and I’m certain special interests (i.e., telecom, wireless, cable companies, et al) are investing heavily in tipping this legislation as far as they can in their favor. If this tips in favor of innovation, ubiquity, freshness and unfettered access, great.

Hopefully you and I will be beneficiaries of a tipping point toward wireless, fast, broadband access that will be a doorway opened for innovation within our Nation the likes of which will dwarf the first wave of the internet.

UPDATE 8/3/05: Competing IEEE Groups to Join Forces on 802.11n Standard

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.