Free Wi-Fi proposal will face a fight

15 February 2013
By Paul Dempsey
Mobile version
Share |
Julius Genachowski is challenging mobile networks

Julius Genachowski is challenging mobile networks

As dropped bombshells go, it’s one of those that merits the term.

The Federal Communications Commission is discussing a plan to deliver free Wi-Fi access throughout the US.

Not to be confused with another recently announced FCC plan to free more spectrum to meet increasing demand for data, commissioner Julius Genachowski’s latest idea looks like as direct a challenge to mobile networks as you can get.

The free network would not merely give universal access to data services but also carry VoIP calls nationwide, for example.

Private operators who have paid billions in spectrum auctions over the years are unimpressed. However, Microsoft and Google have buried their historic rivalry to back the plan. Both have services that would obviously benefit.

Google already offers a public Wi-Fi network across much of Silicon Valley, and Microsoft’s portable devices have struggled to gain traditional cellular market share.

In the middle are many of the infrastructure suppliers, though Intel has come out as clearly against.

Largely, though, they’ve been caught on the sidelines. On one hand, the plan would result in an enormous order; on the other, it could slaughter the capex plans of existing private sector customers.

Genachowski is also framing the idea in a controversial way. Spectrum for the federal Wi-Fi network would come from that released by the US move to digital TV broadcasts.

Given the state of the economy, many would prefer this to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The plan then reignites the great debate over the Internet as either a public resource or a market-driven economy.

Remember, though, that so far this is just a proposal. And one leaked in rather typical DC style. At the start of any new administrative term a few ideas get punted. Some go forward. Some get quickly shelved.

The Washington Post was given a tip. And Genachowski confirmed the plan was being considered. But for now, not a great deal more. The FCC’s full board has yet to vote on the idea.

The busy industry responses nevertheless suggest more going on than mere kite-flying. Specifically, both the operators and their services rivals seemed less than surprised, suggesting discussions have been underway for a while.

There is a lot to resolve. It’s hard to see businesses deserting commercial networks for a free one that could easily become congested. Many private users may feel the same.

Genachowski does not envisage ‘quality of service’ standard performance, rather something for the casual user. So, just how much would the plan undermine the private operators?

Similarly, the US – and much of the rest of the world – is about to see a new generation of machine-to-machine applications come into play.

Given that many of these are in safety-critical fields such as automotive and medical, pushing less ‘important’ traffic onto a shared public network could make sense.

And then, Genachowski may well be trying to poke network owners. They have been repeatedly criticised by consumers over reliability.

Each new iWhatsit launch is accompanied by complaints that the infrastructure can’t cope with the new functions on offer. So, there may be an ‘Or else’ element.

Finally, though, while you can be sure that free, ubiquitous Internet access will play well with the public, whether it happens or not may come down to who is smarter at lobbying Washington and the political community beyond the FCC.

There, for now, my money is still on the networks – but we may have a really fun fight on our hands. 

More important, this could push the debate over next generation datacomms into the open at last.

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Skilled Electrical Fitter

    MBDA
    • Bolton
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   The Electrical Fitter will carry out manufacturing and test tasks within the electrical department in accordance with product certification procedures, defined workmanship  ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Manufacturing Technician

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   As a qualified craftsman with experience in electrical manufacturing, the Manufacturing Technician will report to a Team Leader, receiving day to day ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Oxford Instruments
    • Yatton, Bristol
    • Competitive salary plus excellent benefits

    We are looking for an electrical designer to join our engineering design team.

    • Recruiter: Oxford Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power)

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power) Would you like to play a key role in providing technical direction to the design of power systems on the Successor class submarines, which will replace the current Trident-equipped Vanguard class, currently in servic

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Electrician

    The Bristol Port Company
    • City of Bristol
    • C. £31,729 per annum plus supplements, benefits and overtime

    You’re a good team worker with a strong technical capacity – so bring your talents to a new role with one of the area’s leading employers.

    • Recruiter: The Bristol Port Company

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxford, Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager to join our existing team in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Technical Lead - Global Operations, Engineering & Laboratory

    Pfizer Ltd
    • Kent

    An exciting opportunity has arisen to join a dynamic team of professional engineers, supporting the development of novel drugs.

    • Recruiter: Pfizer Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager into our office in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics & Control Systems Engineer

    Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
    • Bristol, Burton, Glasgow, Plymouth, Warrington
    • £ Competitive + Benefits

    We are seeking talented Electronics Engineers at all career levels.

    • Recruiter: Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Control and Instrumentation Engineers

    Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
    • Bristol, Burton, Glasgow, Gloucester
    • £ Competitive + Benefits

    Frazer-Nash is currently embarking on a period of significant growth of our electrical, electronics, control and instrumentation capability.

    • Recruiter: Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T