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Opinion: Here’s a question. What’s the quickest way to be told to FOAD? (Fall Over And Die, Feel Old And Die, Flit/Fly Off And Die….you get the idea).

Answer: Approach any regional communication authority around the world. Say: “I have created a transceiver which broadcasts at random on any frequency from VHF radio right up to UWB and I’d like it licensed, please!”

Contrary to what a lot of technology companies–including Intel–seem to imagine, the world of radio spectrum isn’t governed by the FCC. There are, for some unaccountable reason, a lot of sovereign states around the globe. Each of them, incredibly, seems to feel it is entitled to regulate wireless spectrum allocations in its territory–subject to international treaty, of course, and some of the time. Perhaps.

Read Guy Kewney’s thoughts on Intel’s WiMax plans.

I still recall the consternation I caused once, in Fiji. I had, coincidentally, just written an opinion piece on Motorola’s doomed satellite phone system, Iridium. It was designed (they said) to provide the world with something it already had–a phone system that would work anywhere on the planet.

At the time, I was en route from LA to Auckland, New Zealand. The plane stopped unexpectedly (landing gear problems) at Fiji and, as we came in to the strip, I noticed “Vodafone” painted in 20-foot high letters on the terminal building roof. So naturally, I pulled out my Vodafone cellphone and called our friends in Auckland to warn them that we’d be late, and they should have breakfast at home. Then I switched the phone off, and had one of those

Bateman moments. You know, when you suddenly realise that you’ve innocently said or done something that has attracted every eye on the planet… and you can’t work out what.

Then a fellow passenger (American accent) asked, cautiously: “How do you happen to have a Fiji phone?”

I tried to explain GSM and it was clear he didn’t believe me. Neither, it seemed, did Iridium’s investors.

Well, Intel isn’t going to make that mistake.

Next page: Can Intel dance its dance in world markets?

Its future strategy is based on wireless. I think it was Glenn Henry, former IBM Fellow and now head of Centaur, who remarked: “It’s clear that the processor is the black hole, and that all silicon is going to fall into it at some point. Integration is inevitable, in our business. Those who can do a processor can control their system destiny, and those who don’t will end up totally at the mercy of other people, who can shut them out of business right away.”

That’s always been Intel’s corporate song. Shut everybody else out of business. The business of the future is wireless. And Intel’s plan–and this is no secret–is to dedicate a corner of every piece of silicon it makes, to a soft transceiver. It will be CMOS, like everything else, and it will be completely soft. That is to say, software will define what frequency it broadcasts on, what frequency it receives on, and what protocol it observes.

Now, we get to the point. All you have to do is imagine Intel approaching the radio communications agency in Singapore, or India, or Croatia, or Australia or Sri Lanka or Japan or China or Sweden… and saying: “We’ll be shipping this new PC next month and we need spectrum approval. What frequency? Pretty nearly all of them, really. Is that OK with you?”

OK, now, let’s think what Intel could do to change the response from

“FOAD!” to “Let’s talk, friend!”

In a recent column, I suggested that there are a lot of people who are fed up with the world’s telcos, and want quicker roll-out of broadband. And (I pointed out) WiMax is being touted, mainly by Intel and its acolytes, as a solution to this, providing high speed broadband into unreachable areas. And finally, I suggested that this is probably misleading propaganda.

Why would Intel want to be the friend of those who want to stick a pin into the rear of the world’s telcos? Because it would give Intel a powerful group of allies in its battle to change the way spectrum is allocated.

WiMax can be made to work. It can be made to work exactly the way Intel says. The only thing is, to work like that, almost every regulatory authority in the world has to change the way it allocates spectrum. Not just which frequency goes to which application, but how broad the spectrum is. And it has to change into a way that looks more like the FCC’s way.

Will it work?

Well…20 years ago, every European state had its own laws on modem approval. Intel launched a modem with built-in Flash ram, and sold this to each approval authority on the basis of being configured in Flash to meet their specific requirements. Then it said: “Oh, by the way, we’re selling the same device into the country next door. But it doesn’t matter; if people from that part of the world visit you, they can re-configure.” The European approval system collapsed. Intel pulled out of modems instantly and sold Flash to all the independent modem builders.

This time, it’s a little different. But the key fact is that WiMax only works the way Intel says it can if WiMax gets high speed broad spectrum wireless allocations. Currently, most FCC equivalents around the world don’t allow this.

What do you bet on the way it will work in 2014?

Click on the Talkback button at the top of this column and tell us what you think.

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