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Brookings Now

Unlicensed Spectrum Is a Scarce Resource

Fred Dews

Today, the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) hosted a panel discussion to explore the future of unlicensed spectrum and how it powers mobile technology on Wi-Fi networks.

Darrell West, Governance Studies director and founding director of CTI, who moderated the panel discussion, said that “unlicensed spectrum is a vital part of the mix that enables many of the innovations that all of us use every day.” However, “unlicensed spectrum a scarce resource and we need public policy decisions that provide sufficient spectrum for consumers and businesses.”

Tom Nagel, a senior vice president of Comcast, discussed the next generation of Wi-Fi. He said that Wi-Fi is the “predominant broadband access method today.” He said that his company wants to “be able to begin to serve our customers and provide what we do inside the home … with hi-speed data and do it outside, to be a wireless extension.”

Michael Calabrese of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation spoke to continued development of the market and technology, wherein unlicensed spectrum, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, is largely chosen by people and connects them within a short distance with low power and low cost.

The panelists noted the increasing crowding of the current unlicensed spectrum, and looked ahead to more spectrum for wireless use being approved by the FCC.

The panel also included Professor Charles Jackson from George Washington University, who reviewed the recent history of broadband and Wi-Fi penetration in the marketplace, and Juanita Budd, executive director of Austin Free-Net, who described the free wireless hotspots her organization has set up around Austin and shared her experience working in the nonprofit industry with the mission of eradicating the digital divide.

Get event audio here.

Mingwei Ma contributed to this post.

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