Friday, October 10, 2014

How Uber, Lyft, AirBnB Have Lessons for the Communications Business

The sharing economy (peer-to-peer economy, mesh, collaborative economy, collaborative consumption) represents a shift in the way human and physical resources to create, produce, distribute or consume goods and services.

Think of Fon, BitTorrent, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, eBay or Craigslist.

A related and fundamental concept is that resources are rented rather than owned. In other words, people rent cars instead of owning them, for example. A business might be created out of allowing travelers arriving at airports to rent the vehicles of other travelers who have parked their cars at the airport on trips of their own.

It might be easy to extrapolate too much from the trend. One attribute of today’s successful “sharing” models is that they are built on new ways of using resources created in more-traditional ways, and based on “owned” assets that can be used more intensively.

In a nutshell, sharing of owned assets is a way of wringing more usefulness out of assets that occasionally or frequently are idle.

It might be stretching matters to imply much more than that angle. The sharing economy is about effective, better and more efficient use of resources.

In telecommunications jargon, sharing helps alleviate the problem of “stranded assets,” investments that have been deployed and paid for, but which are not being actively used.

In many ways, licensed spectrum has a stranded asset element. Many blocks of scarce communications spectrum useful for communications networks are lightly used, most of the time, for one reason or another.

In some cases, the licensed military or government users have spectrum resources that need to be available, but are not necessarily used all the time, or much of the time.

In other cases, the licensed frequencies might be used a lot in some geographies, but are lightly used in other geographies, even if the licenses are national in scope.

So one new element of thinking, in some quarters, is that it might be possible to relatively quickly, and efficiently, put unused capacity to work by sharing licensed spectrum.

In the U.S. market, sharing of 500 MHz worth of spectrum is being looked at in the 3.5 GHz frequencies, for example, as well as at 210 MHz to 512 MHz.

The idea is similar to resource sharing in the consumer space: make better use of available assets in ways that grow overall value and utility, while compensating asset owners.

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