As the FCC considers which rules will govern one of the last great spectrum auctions in February 2009, some of the most interesting proposals are coming from startups and companies outside the wireless business. The latest suggestion comes from Google, which thinks the FCC should adopt an auction process much like the one it uses to sell advertising via its AdWords. That way winning bidders who end up not using as much spectrum as they pay for could reaction it to other companies. That would certainly make for a more efficient use of the spectrum.
Google (GOOG) says it has no plans to bid itself for the air waves (which belong to the old UHF spectrum being given up by TV broadcasters as they go digital). So why does it care? It wants to make sure that the incumbent phone companies who most likely will walk away with most of the new spectrum can't lock others out as easily as they have in the past. (Or as the phone companies may try to do in the future on the wired Internet as they try to buck net neutrality principles). They want wireless networks to be more like the Internet, with equal access for everyone.
It is no coincidence that Google's proposals are in line with startup Frontline Wireless, which was founded by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt and includes among its investors Ram Shriram. Shriram was one of the earliest angel investors in Google.
Frontline's proposal seeks to ensure that any device can connect to any wireless network to be built upon this new spectrum, just like any device can connect to the Internet today. In other words, if you buy an iPhone from AT&T, it should work on Sprint as well. That is a radical departure from how the wireless industry works today, where each carrier has complete control over its network, along with who or what connects to it.
Making wireless networks more like the Internet would certainly be good for both consumers and wireless startups, not least of which would be Frontline. It has the technology to make all of this flexibility possible, as well as to switch any network over to safety and emergency officials on an as-needed basis. It's called "software-defined radio" and another one of Frontline's investors, Vanu Bose, is providing it via his startup, Vanu.
You can be sure the telcos and wireless carriers are already lobbying hard to squash these rules (and Frontline with them).