If you are at all squeamish, I recommend you don’t read on. This article could get as gory Leonardo Di Caprio’s latest opus The Revenant. It’s about modern day struggles but it has similar themes to Di Caprio’s western-themed bloodbath: pioneers exploring virgin territory, a majestic landscape, horse trading and fights over resources, conflicts with encumbents, a fight between good and evil. The clash between 5G pioneers, the natives of white space and the unlicensed spectrum merchants could get equally bloody. And, if you have seen The Revenant, you will know that is very bloody indeed. I almost fainted at one scene! Hopefully, in this story, everybody will manage to keep their balls in the air.
The virgin territory that is about to be settled, in this article, is a region of cyberspace made up of the earth’s airwaves. Our mobile telecoms operators are about to harness for the benefit of mankind, to create an even more beautiful version of cyberspace. But first they need to make a trade off with the encumbents.
Mobile technology, as readers of Think Big will know, has delivered many benefits to the world. It has helped to alleviate famine by boosting crop yields and food distribution. Analysis of big data from mobile operators has helped aid organisations to combat diseases. Mobile banking and better communications have improved the output of developing nations, through millions of micro-economies, that have lifted half the world’s most deprived people out of poverty (according to World Bank figures). Who knows, maybe the next generation of mobile technology could lift the last 10% of the world out of poverty and save billions more lives.
Before companies like Telefonica can do that, they have to settle some uncharted landscapes. In the telecoms world, the unexplored territory belongs to the airwaves, and the unlicensed spectrum of frequencies that can be used for signaling. The brave new world of fifth generation mobile telecoms could make today’s ‘broadband’ seem like two tin cans connected by a piece of string. When 5g is ready, if one of Telefonica’s start up companies invents a Star Trek style teleporting service (and I wouldn’t put it past them) the supporting network could move our molecules from Brighton to Barcelona at 20 Giagabits per second. As someone who remembers the early days of the Internet, I find that astonishing.
Well, it will be, but first there are transport systems to build. In order to achieve these speeds, the mobile operators are working on ways of harnessing the different spectrums and making them work alongside each other. Signals sent along different parts of the spectrum can be aggregated together and pull in the same direction, like a team of telecoms horses galloping along with a big data stagecoach in tow.
The names of some of these wild, untamed spectrum horses have names like 28GHz, 37GHz, 39GHz and 64-71GHz bands. Once they have been tamed, or ‘carrier aggregated’ as the trainers in Telefonica’s stables say, we can give them more friendly names.
But there’s a problem. There are already some encumbents in the territory. Though not exactly natives to this geography, it’s fair to say they got here first, and they have staked a claim to these wild unlicensed spectrum stallions, which they are currently using for their own applications.
These natives of what has become known as ‘The White Space’ are understandably reluctant to give up their unlicensed spectrum. Who can blame them? They got there first. They have crafted some surprisingly sophisticated tools using their natural understanding of the elements of the spectrum. For example, White Space natives can use their tools to send signals that can automatically open a garage door. There is much we can learn from the natives of White Space about child care too. They use the natural elements of the unlicensed spectrum to run baby monitors and alarms. They even have their own version of the Internet of Things and Wireless networking.
It would be crass and insensitive if we telecoms settlers were to come along and colonise the unlicensed spectrum. Surely there is some compromise that can be achieved. But we do need those wi-fi frequencies for 5G! I hope the natives of White Space understand or there will be heap big trouble.