McAdams On: Spectrum Wars Episode II-Google Strikes Again
TATOOINE: The battle for world
domination of the airwaves intensified this week with Google’s entrée into the
hardware business and Sprint’s possible bid for Clearwire.
After releasing its mobile operating system into the market and letting handset
manufacturers do all the hardware heavy lifting-- Google buys Motorola Mobility just in time for broadcast TV white spaces to open up. Sweet. Remember
that Google’s Android was developed as a white-space platform. And while it was
launched as an open-source code, the very smart folks at
technica say Google has its own proprietary version.
This would allow Google to organize and develop its own app market, which now
suffers fragmentation from too many hardware types. To wit, Google
last month announced it was winding down it Labs project and devoting those
resources to other product areas--namely, the Android Market.
The combined control of the operating system, device design and app market makes
Google, Apple, except with absolutely free and mostly unregulated use of the
spectrum. Regulations and the usual politics of business are but a meager grain
of cosmic dust pinging off the titanium spacecraft that is Google’s operational
While Google is suiting up to kick Apple’s apps, we have reports of Sprint and
a consortium of cable companies going after the chunk of Clearwire that Sprint
doesn’t own. Sprint is trying to stay relevant in the face of an AT&T and
T-Mobile merger, and the continued deployment by Verizon of 4G LTE
technology—super-fast wireless broadband for the uninitiated. Clearwire’s
version of 4G wireless broadband--WiMax--is no match for LTE, according to
World, and the carrier has run out of cash to continue building out.
Meanwhile, Sprint cut a deal with LightSquared, the start-up poised to launch a
hybrid satellite-terrestrial 4G LTE broadband network. A
Sprint-Clearwire-LightSquared consortium would control possibly the biggest
chunk of U.S. spectrum of any commercial enterprise and have the capability to
launch a global network. That’s assuming LightSquared can get regulatory
approval despite rabid opposition from the GPS industry and its millions of
These Wagnerian events in the wireless world illustrate some key dynamics. A)
The shortage is cash, not spectrum. Clearwire has plenty of spectrum, but not
enough money to complete the infrastructure necessary to make it a subscription
cash cow. That’s because, B) technologies are evolving faster than networks can
be constructed. Clearwire put its chips on WiMax before discovering LTE would
be the mobile broadband standard
Probably literally. E.g., still waiting for FiOS? Too bad.
C) is the wild card
known as “Google.”
Google was an early proponent of opening up fallow broadcast TV channels--white
spaces--for use by unlicensed devices. Sufficient progress has been made to do
so such that Google-owned Moto Droids should hit the market just in time for
white-space deployment. If the Obama Administration prevails and the current
Federal Communications Commission chief doesn’t irritate key lawmakers to the
point of alienation, unlicensed devices will launch right about the time
broadcast TV spectrum is being put up for incentive auctions. When do you
suppose the lobbying will begin to designate the relinquished TV spectrum for
Let’s set our watches.
~ Deborah D. McAdams