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FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Incredible Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure

SAN JOSE, November 6 – It was Kevin Martin’s day to suck up praise from Silicon Valley. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – for about two more months – came to the Wireless Communications Association’s annual conference here on Thursday to be feted by many Googlers, including company co-founder Larry Page.

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SAN JOSE, November 6 – It was Kevin Martin’s day to suck up praise from Silicon Valley.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – for about two more months – came to the Wireless Communications Association’s annual conference here on Thursday to be feted by many Googlers, including company co-founder Larry Page.

Google had billions of dollars’ worth of reasons to be thankful to Martin. In a hat-trick of decisions on Election Day, Martin shephered a Google-led initiative to make use of the vacant “white spaces” on the television dial through the political shoals of the traditionally broadcaster-friendly FCC.

Also on Tuesday, the agency’s five commissioners unanimously voted to approve the merger of Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, aided by investment from – you guessed it – Google (plus Intel, Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner).

The clean merger of the old Clearwire and the wireless carrier Sprint Nextel took a rocket docket through the FCC. It required no divestiture of assets, as is generally par for the course. Announced on May 7, the merger was approved on November 4, or 181 days later.

By contrast, Comcast and Time Warner had to cool their heels for 404 days before they could accept a condition-riddled division of the assets of failed cable operators Adelphia, in July 2006.

Even AT&T, which once seemed like the favored son of the Martin FCC, was forced to wait 269 days before it could consummate its relations with BellSouth, and 273 days for the merger of SBC Communications and the old AT&T.

In the third significant decision at Tuesday’s FCC meeting, Verizon Communications got the blessing to gobble up wireless competitor Alltel – a merger announced on June 5 – but Verizon had to “voluntarily divest” itself of spectrum assets in 100 markets.

The wireless association’s conference here on Thursday was a celebration of all things Google-ish, with a keynote by Larry Page, a joint press conference by Page and Martin, and a VIP-only reception hosted by Google, TechNet and the wireless association.

In his keynote, Page got right to the point. “I really want to applaud the chairman and the FCC for doing the right thing, and one of the most important things that they can do and that happened in technology in a long time,” he said, speaking about the white spaces decision.

On Tuesday, the FCC approved an order by its Office of Engineering and Technology – powerfully pushed by Google and a collection of other high-tech companies including Microsoft, Motorola, Phillips and others – to allow wireless devices to transmit internet signals in the radio-frequencies unused by television stations.

Each city has dozens of such vacant channels. In San Jose, 26 of the 49 stations between channels 2 and 51 are occupied by broadcasters, leaving 23 potentially available for transmitting broadband, Wi-Fi style, according the Media Tracker of the Center for Public Integrity.

Google’s Page wasn’t clear on any company plans to flood the market with devices that that can take advantage of all those vacant broadcast channels. Nor was he clear – other than the fact that he was very, very excited – on how or whether the company would leverage its spectrum investment in the new Clearwire with its work on Wi-Fi.

“We are an investor in the Clearwire thing, so we are excited about that,” Page said. “They have tremendous [spectrum holdings]. We are absolutely excited about devices that use that spectrum.”

But Page did suggest that the accidental success of Wi-Fi would likely set the stage for a new flowering of white spaces devices.

“We use Wi-Fi all the time to connect to the Internet,” Page said.  “At Google, everyone is connecting to laptops. We have Ethernet cables, but we don’t even plug them in, because the Wi-Fi is so good.”

In his speech, Page called Wi-Fi – which utilizes spectrum in the 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) range – a fortunate accident. He called it “bad spectrum that was useless, and so it was put in this unlicensed regime. Wi-Fi came along, and great engineers got a hold of it, and it is basically used for all of our internet connections.”

Kevin Martin chimed in. He pointed out that “wireless microphones are not licensed” and that “many did not go through certification, the way they were originally supposed to.”

The fact that wireless microphones are able to operate without disrupting broadcast television demonstrated, Martin said, the validity of the Silicon Valley argument in favor of opening the broadcast band up for experimentation and innovation.

The propagation characteristics of 2.4 GHz spectrum aren’t great. “Wi-Fi goes through two walls and then it stops,” Page said. The white spaces between channels 2 and 51, by contrast, operate in relatively low frequencies, from 54 Megahertz (MHz) to 698 MHz.

These lower frequencies will allow for cheaper deployment than Wi-Fi, and “a new wireless broadband alternative that reaches millions,” according to Google’s “White Spaces: Access for the Future” document bandied about the conference here.

The Google report cites an analysis prepared by the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program showing that the amount of vacant white spaces after the DTV transition varies from 82 percent of the broadcast band in less-populated markets like Fargo, North Dakota, to 30 percent of the band in densely-populated Trenton, New Jersey.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is Chairman of the New America Foundation, and the think tank has received donations from Schmidt, but not from Google or Google.org, the search giant’s non-profit affiliate.

What plans does Google have for all of this new white spaces spectrum? In a separate presentation at a companion conference here sponsored jointly by the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Daniel Conrad of Google’s strategic partnership division said, “Getting to this spectrum, which is unused, allows you to hit great range [that] allows you to even get indoors with your network.”

Conrad noted that Google, which operates a public Wi-Fi network in its home city of Mountain View, Calif., can’t use the network inside buildings.

“Not that Google has some grand master plan for what will happen with this spectrum,” said Conrad. “We are happy to see the support of the [FCC] to open it up and to allow anyone to bring whatever business model they want to this space” – provided, of course, that that business model calls for an unlicensed use of the frequencies.

Martin, for his part, said he decided to act now on white spaces because the transition to digital television was nearly complete. “There were two things that were important in my thinking,” Martin said in the joint press conference with Google’s Page. “Utilizing the white spaces prior to the DTV transition, because you were going to be moving the broadcasters around, was going to affect consumers.”

Martin also said that that he was confident that white spaces devices submitted by technology companies met technical requirements for non-interference with broadcast television.

The Martin-feting continued all day. At the Google-TechNet cocktail hour, Google Vice President Doug Garland told him, “We have been so appreciative of your leadership in so many ways.”

Martin, his days at the FCC clearly numbered, sounded relieved to get outside the Beltway. “It is helpful for us to come out to Silicon Valley and get an appreciation” for innovation.

Correction

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that the New America Foundation had received funding from Google. New America Foundation Vice President Michael Calabrese said that neither Google nor Google.org had ever given funding to the think tank.

5G

David Flower: 5G and Hyper-Personalization: Too Much of a Good Thing?

5G, IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more ‘hyper’.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is David Flower, CEO of Volt Active Data

It’s very easy for personalization to backfire and subtract value instead of add it.

Consider the troubling fact that we may be arriving at a moment in hyper-personalization’s journey where the most hyper-personalized offer is no offer at all. Nobody likes to be constantly bombarded by content, personalized or not.

And that’s the paradox of hyper-personalization: if everyone’s doing it, then, in a sense, nobody is.

5G and related technologies such as IoT and edge computing are giving companies the opportunity to make hyper-personalization even more “hyper” via broader bandwidths and the faster processing of higher volumes of data.

This means we’re at a very interesting inflection point: where do we stop? If the promise of 5G is more data, better data, and faster data, and the result is knowing our customers even better to bug them even more, albeit in a “personal” way, when, where, and why do we say, “hold on—maybe this is going too far.”?

How do you do hyper-personalization well in a world where everyone else is doing it and where customers are becoming increasingly jaded about it and worried about how companies are using their data?

Let’s first look at what’s going wrong.

Hyper-personalization and bad data

Hyper-personalization is very easy to mess up, and when you do mess it up it has the exact opposite of its intended effect: it drives customers away instead of keeping them there.

Consider an online ad for a product that pops up for you on a website a couple days after you already bought the thing being advertised for. This is what I call “noise”. It’s simply a nuisance, and the company placing that ad—or rather, the data platform they’re using to generate the algorithms for the ads—should already know that the person has already bought this item and hence present not a “repeat offer” but an upsell or cross-sell offer.

This sounds rudimentary in the year 2022 but it’s still all too common, and you’re probably nodding your head right now because you’ve experienced this issue.

Noise usually comes from what’s known as bad data, or dirty data. Whatever you want to call it—it pretty much ruins the customer experience.

Hyper-personalization and slow data

The second major issue is slow data, which is any data being used way too slowly to be valuable, which usually includes data that has to the trip to the data warehouse before it can be incorporated into any decisions.

Slow data is one of the main reasons edge computing was invented: to be able to process data as closely to where it’s ingested as possible in order to use it before it loses any value.

Slow data produces not-so-fun customer experiences such as walking half a mile to your departure gate at the airport, only to find that the gate has been changed, and then, after you’ve walked the half mile back to where you came from, getting a text message on your phone from the airline saying your gate has been changed.

Again, whatever you want to call it—latency, slow data, annoying—the end result is a bad customer experience.

How to fix the hyper-personalization paradox

I have no doubt that the people who invented hyper-personalization had great intentions: make things as personal as possible so that your customers pay attention, stay happy, and stay loyal.

And for a lot of companies, for a long time, it worked. Then came the data deluge. And the regulations. And the jaded customers. We’re now at a stage where we need to rethink how we do personalization because the old ways are no longer effective.

It’s easy—and correct—to blame legacy technology for all of this. But the solution goes deeper than just ripping and replacing. Companies need to think holistically about all sides of their tech stacks to figure out the simplest way to get as much data as possible from A to B.

The faster you can process your data the better. But it’s not all just about speed. You also need to be able to provide quick contextual intelligence to your data so that every packet is informed by all of the packets that came before it. In this sense, your tech stack should be a little like a great storyteller: someone who knows what the customer needs and is feeling at any given moment, because it knows what’s happened up to this point and how it will affect customer decisions moving forward.

Let’s start thinking of our customer experiences as stories and our tech stacks as the storytellers—or maybe, story generators. Maybe then our personalization efforts will become truly ‘hyper-personal’— i.e., relevant, in-the-moment experiences that are a source of delight instead of annoyance.

David Flower brings more than 28 years of experience within the IT industry to the role of CEO of Volt Active Data. Flower has a track record of building significant shareholder value across multiple software sectors on a global scale through the development and execution of focused strategic plans, organizational development and product leadership. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Dave Wright: Shared Relocation Fund Will Make More of Finite Spectrum Resource

‘Wireless connectivity is one of the most vital aspects of our digital infrastructure.’

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Dave Wright, president of OnGo Alliance and head of global wireless policy at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

In order to meet the gaps in broadband connectivity that persist throughout the country, we must have a more comprehensive view for the necessity of all available spectrum – whether shared, licensed or unlicensed – understanding that they are complementary and independently important to our nation’s future.

As we figure out how we will meet the needs of an increasingly wireless world, it is critical that we think collaboratively on how we can free up and share spectrum, working closely and cooperatively with the federal agencies responsible for our nation’s spectrum resources, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunication and Information Administration.

With recent confirmed leadership appointments in the NTIA and FCC, and renewed focus on collaboration and collegiality between these organizations, there is hope for renewed effectiveness in America’s overall management of our spectrum resources.

From a policy perspective, the OnGo Alliance is working to shed light on the incentives that inherently exist around the way spectrum is made available today. For terrestrial uses, there are two long established methods for making spectrum available – via a licensing process including an auction of the frequencies, or via an unlicensed allocation where spectrum is made available on a license-exempt basis.

Licensed bands have given rise to our cellular connectivity, while unlicensed spectrum has enabled innovations like the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth solutions that we know and depend upon today. The near ubiquitous presence of these technologies speaks to the efficacy of these approaches. The US 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service is the first spectrum access framework that combines aspects of licensed (protected access) and unlicensed (opportunistic access) spectrum within a single, dynamically managed access paradigm.

Congress has increasingly been looking to licensed spectrum auctions as a source of revenue to cover the funding requirements for new programs. And Federal users who are occupying spectrum and then make the spectrum available for auction can take advantage of monies made available through the Spectrum Relocation Fund to cover the costs associated with transitioning their systems.

The SRF is in turn funded based the resulting auction revenues. These are examples of the current incentives in the system which are either directly or indirectly tied to auction revenues of licensed spectrum. These incentives inherently bias the policymaking processes toward licensed spectrum, at the expense of unlicensed and/or opportunistic spectrum like we have in the CBRS General Authorized Access tier.

This bias is not helpful in our quest to provide accessible broadband throughout the nation as unlicensed and GAA are key components in most solutions, from Wi-Fi as the “last meter” connection to a fixed broadband network to GAA’s prominent role in rural fixed wireless offerings.

CBRS is an optimal framework for putting mid-band spectrum to intensive uses for a wide variety of uses. In the only two years since CBRS commercial operations were approved by the FCC, over 225,000 CBRS base stations have been installed nationwide.

Collaboration between cloud players, system integrators, radio vendors and operators has reached critical mass, building a vibrant, self-sustaining ecosystem. CBRS has allowed enterprises and rural farms alike the opportunity to install private 4G and 5G networks that are connecting IoT devices – from factory robots to autonomous farm equipment. School districts, airports, military bases and logistics facilities, factories, hospitals, office buildings, and public libraries are only but a few of the limitless facilities where connectivity has been enabled by CBRS spectrum.

Wireless connectivity is one of the most vital aspects of our digital infrastructure, and we must use all of the available resources in order to make broadband as ubiquitous as any other utility. Our policymaking, and the incentives around it, must account for the fact that all types of spectrum are important – whether licensed, unlicensed or shared – and that it is vital to ensure that there are proper allocations of each type to meet the relentless demand. We must work together to make the most of what we have.

Dave Wright played an instrumental role in the formation of the OnGo Alliance (originally known as the CBRS Alliance), collaborating with other founding members to create a robust multi-stakeholder organization focused on the optimization of LTE and 5G services in the CBRS band. He served as the Alliance’s first Secretary from its launch in August 2016 and was elected as the President of the Alliance in February 2018. He advocates for unlicensed, licensed, and dynamic sharing frameworks – recognizing the vital role that all spectrum management regimes play in our increasingly wireless world. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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5G

Optional Security Features for 5G Technology Poses Risks

The next generation wireless technology is being touted as the most secure yet.

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Photo of Dan Elmore of the Idaho National Labratory

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2022 – 5G technology can still present security concerns despite being touted as the most secure of the cellular generations, said Dan Elmore of the Idaho National Laboratory at a 5G Future event Thursday.

In response to the emerging challenge of validating 5G security protocols and data protection technologies, the Idaho National Laboratory established its Wireless Security Institute in 2019 to coordinate government, academic, and private industry research efforts to foster more secure and reliable 5G technology.

While 5G network offers a “rich suite” of security features in the standards, most of it is optional for manufacturers and developers to choose to implement in their system or device, said Elmore, who is the director for critical infrastructure security at the INL. This poses a significant challenge for 5G, particularly for critical infrastructure applications, as consumers may not know how standards are implemented, Elmore said.

Elmore urged consumers, especially federal agencies, to ask the hard questions and consider “what vulnerabilities might be present in how they [manufacturers and developers] employ those standards that could be exploited.”

5G is designed to allow cellular devices to connect at higher speeds with lower latency, the delay in loading requests, than previous generations. Already, wireless carriers are incorporating it into devices and working on national 5G networks.

Because of its facilitation of real-time monitoring, 5G technology is expected to help tackle critical issues like climate change and environmental sustainability.

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