Jonathan Levin Makes a Case for Unlicensed Spectrum

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on December 2, 2011

The explosion in demand for mobile and wireless devices like tablets and smartphones is driving policymakers to consider how to make more spectrum available for the growing array of wireless services. This development raises challenging spectrum policy questions. In “The Case for Unlicensed Spectrum,” Jonathan Levin and co-authors Assaf Eilat and Paul Milgrom examine the benefits of unlicensed radio spectrum.
In this paper, the authors point out that “the development of spectrum license auctions in the 1990s helped to pave the way for the growth of the mobile phone industry while generating billions in auction revenues for national governments. Yet some of the most valuable and important innovations in wireless communication, in particular the development of Wi-Fi, have taken place on bands of spectrum for which no exclusive licenses were issued.”
“The Case for Unlicensed Spectrum” explores questions such as: Why has unlicensed spectrum been such an effective catalyst for innovation? Is it costly, in terms of auction revenues, to set aside spectrum for unlicensed uses? And, should spectrum bandwidth be managed differently than any other economic resource?
Broadcast Engineering reported on the article (“New report cites need for balance of unlicensed, licensed spectrum” November 7, 2011), highlighting that “the study urges a balanced approach to making both unlicensed and licensed spectrum available in the American marketplace.” Additionally, Computerworld referred to the article in its story reviewing the debate over auctioning unlicensed spectrum (“More unlicensed mobile spectrum needed, group says” November 4, 2011).
The Case for Unlicensed Spectrum” is available on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) for downloading.