Open Wireless vs. Licensed Spectrum: Evidence from Market Adoption

96 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2013

Date Written: November 7, 2012


The paper reviews evidence from eight wireless markets: mobile broadband; wireless healthcare; smart grid communications; inventory management; access control; mobile payments; fleet management; and secondary markets in spectrum. I find that markets are adopting unlicensed wireless strategies in mission-critical applications, in many cases more so than they are building on licensed strategies. If the 1990s saw what was called "the Negroponte Switch" of video from air to wire, and telephony from wire to air, the present and near future are seeing an even more fundamental switch. Where a decade ago most of our wireless capacity was delivered over exclusive control approaches-both command and control and auctioned exclusivity -- complemented by special-purpose shared spectrum use, today we are moving to a wireless infrastructure whose core relies on shared, open wireless approaches, complemented by exclusive control approaches for special, latency-intolerant, high-speed mobile applications. The scope of the latter will contract further if regulation catches up to technological reality, and opens up more bands to open wireless innovation, with greater operational flexibility and an emphasis on interoperability

This final version of the paper uses more updated market data than the 2011 working paper, adds case study analysis of failures or anemic cases of open wireless allocations, the U-PCS, WMTS, ITS, and 3.65GHz bands (suggesting valuable lessons for future design of open wireless allocations), and adds an extensive literature review and rebuttal to some of the major academic critiques of open wireless approaches.

Suggested Citation

Benkler, Yochai, Open Wireless vs. Licensed Spectrum: Evidence from Market Adoption (November 7, 2012). 26 Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 71 (2012), Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-14, Available at SSRN:

Yochai Benkler (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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