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Google's Balloon-based Wi-Fi for Rural Areas & Emergencies

In the past few days Google’s Project Loon has been revealed. As one who was a early pioneer in this area, your blogger was excited about this unexpected use of Wi-Fi which in itself was an unexpected application of the unlicensed ISM bands when the rules for them were adopted in 1985.

While much is made now about the ability of unlicensed spectrum to foster innovation, the key to the success of the ISM bands and the comparative failure of the contemporary U-NII and U-PCS bands is the great technical flexibility the rules for the ISM bands had to implement unimagined applications, not just what the proponents of the bands wanted at that time. Unlicensed by itself does not lead to technical innovation. The synergy of unlicensed and flexible technical rules that allow innovators to innovate at Internet speed” not “government speed” is what enables innovation. Several of the recent proposals for new unlicensed spectrum have so many strings attached that one wonders if they will really enable innovation as the ISM bands have.

Kudos to Google for this fascinating innovation of balloon-based Wi-Fi for emergency and rural use. It shows that the combination of unlicensed and truly flexible rules can supply the spectrum needed for disruptive innovation - perhaps the reason why the mainstream spectrum holders and their suppliers in the 1980s were dead set against the original ISM band rules and were happy to see your blogger sent off to “internal exile” in FCC for several years after the original ISM band decision.

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