In his keynote speech at IWCE 2017, Dr. Preston Marshall, the technical program manager for spectrum access technology at Google, spoke about how the future of spectrum, and how shared-spectrum models can spur innovation.

Sharing spectrum is interesting for two reasons, he says. “First of all, it’s an incredible opportunity for infrastructure, public safety and existing operators,” Marshall said. “But secondly, you aught to think of this as the shape of things to come.” He feels the shared-spectrum model will allow scalability, which in turn, will get more investors and entrepreneurs interested in RF.

Spectrum is a unified entity, but because of technological regulation, “we have broken each of the communities into their own little stovepipes,” Marshall said. “Not only is the spectrum different but the technologies in each are separate, divorced, stand-alone and have no clear way to support each other.””

However, with spectrum sharing, not only can carriers share with primaries and secondaries, but groups of users can also share with one another. “This creates economies of scale, it creates new markets for equipment, it creates new opportunities to invest in and buy technologies that would otherwise be inaccessible” Marshall said.

Most people understand spectrum in the terms of radios and the value it came bring to that equipment, but Marshall said this understanding is incomplete. “Spectrum drives or precludes innovation. Our economy is strong because companies like Microsoft and its competitors can build products in a scalable way.” However, the current model for spectrum precludes that scalability. “If you spend $10 billion for an asset, you’re not going to experiment with it,” Marshall explains. “You get one chance every 5 to 8 years to buy an asset, you can’t think of scaling a business up.”

Shared spectrum is a more “venture-friendly” model, says Marshall. Imagine a business today, he says. They can start small, connect to the Internet and purchase more capacity as needed. “We can’t imagine that cycle if that business was spectrum-dependant,” he says. “If you’re building an Internet-based system you have incredible scalability, you can try it out, you can experiment, you can learn. None of that exists with spectrum.”

Shared spectrum, he says, allows this type of scalability in the RF world. Entrepreneurs will take an interest in the ability to try new ideas, and even if those ideas fail, it will help revitalize an industry that has become stagnant.