700 MHz EverywhereMonday, October 15, 2007
The hot topic for the fall season is who is going to do what at the 700-MHz auction. I have been writing about my thoughts as have many others, and between us all, perhaps we have figured it out. But my bet is that we are in for some real surprises when the dust settles. As I talk to journalists, I always end up saying that we won’t really know anything for sure until the auctions are over, six months have passed and all of the horse trading and partnerships are fairly complete.
If you live or work in the Silicon Valley, you should plan on attending the WCA (Wireless Communications Alliance) Mobile Sig session called “Analyze This!: The 700-MHz Auctions.” I have always enjoyed speaking for this group and I think this will be a great session. It runs from 5:30-8:00pm on Tuesday, November 6 (vote before coming) at Santa Clara University, Recital Hall.
The panel will be moderated by Clint McClellan, Senior Director of Market Intelligence at Qualcomm, and the panelists, in addition to myself, include Quentin Hardy, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief for Forbes and Mike Thelander, CEO of Signals Research. It should be an interesting panel and I think it will be informative for everyone in attendance. It does cost to attend: $30 at the door or $20 in advance via PayPal or a credit card, and you can go online to sign up at www.wca.org.
I agreed to participate in this particular panel because it is in Silicon Valley and should be well attended by computer and Internet companies. I want to convey the fact that wireless is not just like wired—we have to deal with issues such as shared bandwidth and a finite amount of spectrum, and there are significant differences between a managed and unmanaged network. The Internet, of course, is unmanaged and wireless networks are managed.
I also believe many of the people in attendance are hoping Google bids on and wins the C block, which is 22 MHz of spectrum (11 X 11), has only twelve licenses available for a nationwide footprint and is the block the FCC has mandated to be open access. The points I hope to make are that open access does not mean free access, devices will still have to be approved and registered on the network and 22 MHz of spectrum is not enough to build out a nationwide network for millions of customers, even with the next-generation technologies that are on the horizon.
I expect that my views will not be well received by the Internet and computer communities, but I believe they need to understand the limitations inherent in a wireless network, open or not, and that Sprint/Clearwire/Google have pledged that their WiMAX network will be completely open to a multiplicity of devices, to virtually any information on the Internet and to wholesalers who want to resell their own services. Further, this open access network is being driven by market forces, not by laws―which is the way I believe things should work.
In last week’s Commentary, I went over a number of scenarios for the 700-MHz auctions and my blog entry last week was about what I think Google might do at the auctions. There are two points I believe need repeating here: Google does not want to build and own a wireless network, it wants access to all of them. Second, I believe Google will bid the reserve price of $4.6 billion for the C block and then let someone else out-bid it. This is because if the reserve price is not met, the rules state that the C block will be re-auctioned without the open access provision (which seems to be an indication that the FCC is not fully behind mandated open access requirements).
CBS and the New York Times both carried reports about the Google phone—not an iPhone killer (IPK) but using open Linux for an operating system and designed, supposedly, to kill Microsoft’s mobile operating system business. Here again, I think market forces will decide and I don’t believe for a moment that we will end up with a single operating system for wireless devices.
I believe that fully commoditizing phones is not something network operators would favor. They are already in a technology-neutral situation and are using devices and applications to help differentiate their networks one from another. Making phones all the same and/or providing access to the same information only makes it that much tougher for them to differentiate themselves. They are bound and determined NOT to become a wireless pipe and, so far, the Internet community seems to want to turn them into wireless pipes. If that happens, then I fear for the longevity and robustness of our commercial networks.
I guess I am truly old school because I believe that companies that spend money to provide services are entitled to profit on that investment. It seems to me as though that this is the American way. Just as Google profits from its investment in creating the world’s largest computer platform, so too should network operators be entitled to a profit on the $billions they spend on building, managing and operating their networks!
Come join us at the WCA event on November 6―it should be a great debate and a lively time. I am looking forward to hearing what the moderator and other panelists have to say about this subject, and what types of questions we will get from the audience. See you there!