The 700 Mhz spectrum discussions have a sense of Déjà vu .. with the Carterphone principle for landline networks. Historical evidence shows that it is just a matter of time before the networks will have to open up fully as we discuss below.
Large telecoms companies like AT&T and Verizon control a major portion of the broadband market and also the wireless spectrum. Google is seeking to change the status quo by advocating that the 700 MhZ wireless spectrum recently vacated by analogue television stations be treated as ‘Open access’.
Open access, from Google’s standpoint, means four things which Google outlines in their blog.
1) Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
2) Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
3) Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
4) Open networks: third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at a technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.
The carterphone principle
So far, Google has got agreement from the FCC about Open devices for 22Mhz of the 700 Mhz spectrum(A portion of the condition 2 above).
This is a step in the right direction since it leads to the Carterphone principle
(which opened up the landline networks many years ago).
In a nutshell, the Carterphone principle advocates that we don’t have to buy the landline phone from the network provider(specifically AT&T in case of that litigation). Prior to the carterphone regulation, customers were forced to buy the devices only from the network.
We take the benefits of the carterphone principles for granted today and we cannot imagine a world without these ideas
However, if we look back into history, we can see that devices like fax machines, modems, answering phones etc may not have been developed without such legislation which required the device to be network agnostic(i.e. any device can be connected to any network)
In that sense, from a historical perspective, the requirement for Open access does lead to innovation and benefits the customer.
Telecom companies do innovate – but that innovation is based on connectivity within their network as opposed to connectivity across networks. However, customers benefit from cross network connectivity and interoperability – hence the requirement for devices to be able to connect across networks.
Google actually wanted all four conditions – especially open services(wholesale access) which would have opened up the door to competition from a whole raft of smaller vendors much like the dial up access in the early 90s.
They have ended up with open devices on a portion of the spectrum – only a fraction of what was asked for.
But a journey of a 1000 miles starts with one small step .. as the ancient Chinese proverb says ..
At this time, not much is know about a ‘Google phone’ – so it is not easy to tie these initiatives to specific objectives which Google may be trying to achieve – but the overall benefit to the customer is clear
So, as the creator of the OpenGardens blog, I support all of the four conditions especially because I believe that they benefit the consumer and lead to greater innovation based on the historical evidence of the Carterphone principle. Customers benefit from cross network connectivity and interoperability through the ability of devices to be able to connect across networks.