My new apartment is way too crowded.
When I sit down at the home-office PC in my kitchen, I run into Julie and Nina and Wormhole and Dreamland and Megavox and Steve's Room. And that's just for starters.
My wimpy little 802.11b Wi-Fi router didn't stand a chance against this crazy mishmash of wireless networks.
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So I installed a new Netgear 802.11n router, which uses multiple antennas and dual channels as a means of overpowering everybody else's network, hoping to reclaim my own home.
It works a heck of a lot better than my old "b" router did, but it's still straining. That's just not right.
I should be able to beam something from my own kitchen to my own living room. I can't go to 802.11a, which works on a completely different band, because one of my laptops doesn't support it.
It seems there just isn't enough spectrum to go around.
Except that there is. If you look at a U.S. radio spectrum chart (www.ntia.doc.gov/osmhome/allochrt.pdf), the 2.4-GHz spectrum — stuffed with cordless phones, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and microwave ovens — is just a tiny little thumbnail marked "amateur" in a vast sea of licensed frequencies.
The low-frequency spectrum — below 3 GHz — is particularly valuable because lower-frequency waves do better at traveling over distances and through walls, and huge chunks of this spectrum aren't being used all that much.
You and I know that unused space as the UHF television band (brings back memories, doesn't it?).
Freeing the old UHF TV frequencies — and making enough of this spectrum" "unlicensed," so that anyone can use it — could spark a thousand new wireless ideas.
I'm not entirely sure what they'd be, but then, I'm not some brilliant tech entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, the government is fiscally greedy, preferring corporations to small innovators, and it's mired in bureaucratic molasses. It wants to make money by auctioning all of the UHF spectrum off to big companies, such as wireless carriers.
There are excellent licensed uses for this spectrum — MediaFLO USA's new Mobile TV system is using the space vacated by the old TV channel 55 — but the airwaves need genuinely public space, too. Big companies tend to have a few big ideas, not a lot of little ones that come out of the blue.
There's plenty of room in UHF for both.
What's more, the Federal Communications Commission is still kowtowing to dinosaur TV broadcasters — who are taking their sweet time getting out of the old UHF channels — and bending to ridiculous FUD (that's less-than-genuine fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about breaking people's TV sets.
First the deadline was 2005, then 2007, and now it's 2009. But all TVs sold in the U.S. today include digital tuners. And if you want to watch digital channels on your old TV, all you have to do is buy a converter box. In the U.K., such boxes cost as little as $50.
Somebody needs to put a foot down and say, "C'mon people, move! You're holding up innovation."
Heck, there's even a way for the FCC to create possibilities and act wimpy at the same time.
Here in New York, the nation's No. 1 media market, we don't have any UHF broadcasters between channels 55 and 63. In Austin, nobody's broadcasting above 54. Kansas City goes up to 62, but there's nobody between 50 and 62.
The FCC could, right now, declare open season on those unused channels for anyone who has a technology nimble enough to find open frequencies and avoid stepping on TV broadcasts.
Such technologies are here today, but this kind of thinking is way too innovative for our fine Feds.
There's a political movement out there that wants to open up the whole radio spectrum to everyone. This group says that with smart antennas, spread-spectrum technology and other neat innovations, everybody should be able to share.
That's theoretically possible, but I just can't see every single radio receiver in the country getting all of these magic technologies any time soon.
By now, you know what my call to arms is. Phone your Congresscreature. E-mail the FCC. Tell them we need a little more space to breathe, to think, and to create great new wireless ideas.
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.