The "tragedy" of the radio spectrum commons?

Glenn Fleishman posts a greatcommentary on the recent discussion about the "tragedy of the commons" of the 2.4 GHz space. Given some comments on the matter by Dewayne Hendricks, member of the FCC Technology Adisory Council and chairman of the FCC's Spectrum Management Working Group. Definitely worth a read - Glenn points out the real issues involved, the technology limitations, and the industry standards coming out designed to promote shared use of the spectrum.

This is an interesting thought experiment - will the success of the 2.4GHz spectrum (and any other unlicensed spectrum) fail due to its own success? Will illegal amplifiers turn the spectrum into another Citizen's Band? Even without illegal amps, is it doomed to failure because the density of devices will increase too quickly?

I don't think so. But it does remain an open question - how much is enough? In other words, as 802.11h and other standards that help to reduce interference become more popular, at what density of spectrum do even those methods fail? Surely there is a transmission power and density for which the specrtum becomes unusable. The question is, can technological advances outpace the bandwidth needs of the public? As more bandwidth is available over the airwaves, whether by spectrum allocation, frequency increases, or new standards for interoperable devices, at what point will the spectrum be rendered effectively unusable? To what extent is legislation or regulation needed here?

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that the unlicensed spectrum (2.4GHz, used by 802.11b and others, and 5.3GHz, used by 802.11a), while unlincensed, IS NOT UNREGULATED. Among other things, all devices have to follow FCC Part 15 rules, which means that they must be approved by the FCC before the manufacturers can offer them for sale. Perhaps the key to saving the commons is to ensure that these devices are interoperable and, well, for the lack of a better term, polite to other users of the spectrum.

Of course, this would be an extension to the FCC's regulatory capacity - essentially asking it to endorse certain protocols at a layer above the radio. However, I think that by focusing on protocols rather than products, it (a) does not act anti-competitively, and (b) promotes the public good (remember, WE own the airwaves!) by enabling more functionality and usability of the spectrum we use. And if we are smart, we can agree to a level of interference protection that all higher level radio protocols can use, allowing for even greater flexibility.

Think of it as a new layer, sitting between layers 1 and 2 of the network stack - the new layer would provide for interference detection, channel switching, and possibly even automated changes in the spread spectrum algorithms to make sure that different devices, running different higher-level protocols, would automatically detect each other and not interfere with each other.