Stunned by a recently released report by Cisco showing that wireless data traffic grew 92% in the past week, the FCC has decided to rush a significant swath of wireless spectrum to the wireless industry - through a unique auction process called The Spectrum Games. This brings quick resolution to a process that had been dragging on for years, mollifying wireless operators who said they were getting perilously close to running out of network capacity.
Adding to the urgency is the prospect of the LTE-based iPhone 5, which many believe will be available this summer. Julius Generosity, Chairman of the FCC, said that he was becoming increasingly worried about a full-fledged consumer revolt if wireless networks couldn't handle the demand from an LTE iPhone. Mr. Generosity announced the Games to a huge crowd gathered at the agency's headquarters, to cheers of 'FCC! FCC!'.
The FCC appears to be taking seriously reports that the fledgling Occupy Wireless movement was going to set up camp outside FCC offices and select wireless retail stores, to protest what they believed were deep societal rifts being caused by the network capacity crunch. Occupy Wireless spokesman Tim Textalot said his movement's members felt a special kinship with last year's Occupy movement: "It is only the 1% that can afford the $10 per gigabyte that the wireless operators charge for data overage. We are the 99% -- we have always wanted to create a better world for our children, yet we face the real prospect that our kids might have to limit their wireless usage."
Textalot said that the Occupy Wireless movement is preparing for the possibility that the spectrum deal might not happen. It is hiring counselors to teach families how to have a conversation in the car and at the dinner table. Counselors are also working with teens and young adults to prepare them for the possibility of being occasionally off-line. "They are terrified that they might have to wait several minutes for a message response, or might not know exactly where all their friends are at a particular moment", said Textalot.
In order to rush the additional spectrum to market, the FCC is proposing a special "Hunger Games" style auction. From among the thousands of applications, the FCC will narrow the field to 50 teams. These teams will be eligible to claim one of twelve chunks of spectrum in the coveted sub-700 MHz band. On Thursday, April 5, the "Spectrum Games" will begin, at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. Teams will be given the opportunity to rush a Communicopia, which will be stocked with old cell phones, chargers, batteries, and any other element that might be able to be used as a weapon. "Those old brick phones might come in pretty handy now", said an unnamed contestant. Another team was rumored to be working on an "Angry Birds" style weapon, comprised of a cigarette lighter adapter 'slingshot' and a battery to use as a projectile. The first twelve teams that are able to storm through the FCC's front door will be able to claim the spectrum band of their choice, in order of finish.
The fifty teams vying to participate in the Spectrum Games include a combination of industry incumbents and newcomers:
- AT&T. Stilled peeved at the FCC's scuttling of the T-Mobile deal, AT&T said it will do what it takes to get new spectrum. "Our 'Throttling' capabilities should come in handy in the competition", AT&T said.
- Apple. The company submitted a particularly Machiavellian unique business plan, indicating that it would use its vast cash hoard to offer an LTE iPhone to consumers for $199, which could then be used exclusively over this new spectrum. This would effectively put the wireless operators out of business, fulfilling one of the late Steve Jobs' lifelong dreams.
- Google. The company is quickly cobbling together a Spectrum Games team. Mainly because Apple and Facebook are competing.
- Craig McCaw was one of the first people to get their application in. Despite recent high-profile mis-steps such as Iridium and Clearwire, McCaw is determined to cement his place as the "Godfather" of the wireless industry.
- A team called the "Wireless Old Farts" -- who go back to some of the earliest days of the industry and who want one last chance at wireless glory. Among this group of veterans is John Stanton, Denny Strigl, John Stupka, Tom Wheeler, Irwin Jacobs, and their "eminence grise", Marty Cooper.
- Broadcaster Coalition. This one looks like a brilliant move. The broadcasters are going to get a huge sum from the FCC as compensation for relocating to another part of the spectrum band, which they are then going to use to build a national wireless network if they are one of the teams to win the Spectrum Games.
- The Facebook Billionaires Club. Soon to be flush with cash from the upcoming IPO, this team decided to put some of its cash into the wireless business. "Buying fancy cars and houses in Silicon Valley is so Bubble 1.0", said a spokesperson for the team. "We thought it would be fun to own a wireless network". Apparently the Facebook team is working on a secret Spectrum Games strategy of hiring the Winkelvi twins to row up the Potomac and storm the FCC's offices.
- LightSquared. The company is still fuming about the FCC's decision to revoke its license to build a satellite-based network due to spectrum concerns. LightSquared plans to be very aggressive in the Spectrum Games - the "Cato" of the Games, as it were. There's no telling what the company might do if it is one of the twelve teams to make it through the FCC's doors, although it is rumored that the FCC has hired extra security.
- The NFL Network. This group would be one of the few content providers ever to own spectrum. If successful, the NFL plans to offer a package of NFL games exclusively over mobile. "We're hoping to piss off an even greater percentage of the population who don't currently get the NFL Network or the Direct TV package", said the NFL.
- Ticketmaster, which proposes to funds its network buildout by charging customers a "convenience" fee every time they use their wireless phone.
- General Motors. Dan Akerson, former CEO of Nextel, might be looking for a next chapter once he gets bored turning around GM. Rumor is he would like one last wireless victory lap by combining ailing device manufacturer RIM with cash-strapped operators Sprint and Clearwire into a combined device and wireless broadband service play aimed specifically at the enterprise. "I'm still peeved about what happened to Nextel", said Akerson.
- Mitt Romney. The likely Republican nominee for President, still frustrated that he hasn't "connected" with voters, plans to use the spectrum to offer free wireless service for as long as he is President, if elected. "That'll make them love me", Romney said.
Mr. Generosity of the FCC looks forward to the day when ample wireless capacity leads to the return of All-You-Can-Eat wireless plans. "Megabyte Schmegabyte", Mr. Generosity quipped, referring to consumer frustration over usage-based pricing plans.
Hope you enjoyed this April Fools' issue of the Lens.