"Bring Your Own Access" as a Major Paradigm

It seems inevitable that greater reliance on a mix of spectrum, networks and licensing regimes will be a hallmark of all next-generation networks from this point forward. You might call this an example of "bring your own access" in the communications-related businesses.

That is a new approach, historically. Telcos, TV and radio broadcasters, cable TV companies and others have essentially supplied the access function as part of their core services.

Wi-Fi was the first major break in the pattern. In that case, the end user supplies his or her own access, in the sense of paying for the access connection and the local small cell transmitter function. 

For the first time, the app is fully separated from the access, in terms of who pays for the access connection and features.

That is important for suppliers as well as end users. Aside from the dramatic impact on capital and operating cost, the shift to "bring your own access" also changes traditional thinking on how the "access" is supplied, when it is the service provider who actually supplies the access.

We are moving from communications using “only my owned resources” to a heterogeneous world where the access function routinely uses a mix of resources (both “my assets” and “any other available assets.”

That has implications for bandwidth, capital cost, operating cost, network design and protocols as well as business models.

Consider the implications for business models. Up to this point, almost all big commercial wireless industries have been built on the use of licensed spectrum that also has been highly regulated in terms of what protocols can be used in each frequency band and often even what applications are lawful in such bands.

Wi-Fi has been the first shift away from that pattern. Having shown the role license-exempt spectrum can play in supporting many industries, including those using licensed spectrum, new work is being done to increase the amount of license-exempt spectrum available for communications uses.

There are business model implications. To the extent spectrum remains a relatively scarce commodity, licensing creates moats around some business models.

Freeing up more license-exempt spectrum creates new ways for businesses to be built on communications spectrum at vastly lower cost.

The best example so far has been Wi-Fi “anything” compared to use of the same apps on networks using licensed spectrum.

There are capital cost advantages as well, since the cost of deploying license-exempt apps and devices does not have to incorporate the cost of spectrum licenses. And such devices and apps can build upon the fixed network infrastructure already in place to support new untethered and mobile apps and services.

To note only the most obvious implications, greater availability of license-exempt spectrum will allow many more types of service and app providers to build businesses based on local, small cell transmitters than are affordable and based on incremental capital, self-installed and activated by end users as needed, with the actual transmission infrastructure supplied by the end user, not the service provider.

That is one concrete example of a “bring your own access” approach to building a business, a service or application.

If a service can be built on the assumption that the customers supply their own Internet access as well as the untethered transmitting network, and that such functions are largely supplied by the end users themselves, clear operating cost advantages also are possible.

The app or service provider does not have to build, operate and maintain the access network or the transmitting cell sites.

Think of the analogy of “over the top,” where an app can be used independently from the method of access.

That has business model implications for all sorts of firms and industries.
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