The FCC turned down an application from an outfit called M2Z Networks for spectrum in the 2GHz range (2155 -2180 MHz, the so called AWS-3 band ). MZ2 proposed a business model where it would provide moderate spead wireless access (WiMax based, 768 kbit/s ) for ” free” across the US. That is almost for free – if you can take the advertisements that where proposed to finance the deal. Instead of giving away the spectrum to MZ2, the FCC opted for following its standard proceedure, that is to auction off spectrum where there is more demand than supply (i.e. almost everywhere). The “Hacker community” is outraged and one can almost hear the collective sign of relief from the cellular broadband operators, whose traditional business model was threatened – or was it ?
But is there a free lunch ? Although projecting this image, M2Z may not only be a white knight in shining armor coming to the rescue of the people. The company has heavyweight players backing them up and their agenda may not always be stricly philanthropic . However, these players (Google, Amazon, Netscape, MySpace and others), play by different rules than the incumbents. Using a “Free service” model for wide area wireless access is indeed an interesting new idea. We have seen this in cafés, hamburger joint and hotels to attract customers. There the business model make sense, wireless access is like air conditioning, lighting and toilets part of a nice environment to enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee. The café owner doesn’t care what I am doing online. In wide area access, the a free access model is not quite obvious. How can one combine advertisements with transparent IP access ? The latter is essential to the way we access the internet – who is interested in being confined to what Google or Amazon wants me to use or having access through a portal with advertisements ?