SAN FRANCISCO -- How should the government handle the 700MHz spectrum auction planned for January? A lot depends on which interested party you ask.
During a spirited debate here at the Web 2.0 Summit Thursday, Thomas Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications at Verizon, joined the stage with wireless advocate Ram Shriram and Martin Varsavsky, CEO and founder of Spanish Wi-Fi company FON.
Their opposing views helped put the potential stakes in high relief.
Tauke said he was bullish on the potential of the new spectrum. "We see it as something that when it's available will unleash a whole new set of mobile services," he said.
Shriram agreed with the potential of the spectrum but expressed concern over who might control it.
"This is like beachfront property we won't see again for years that will let you build a nationwide wireless network for about one fifth the cost of WiMax," he said. "The other part that excites me, that doesn't exist today in the U.S., is it could be an open-access network with the ability for anyone who produces a hardware device application to deploy it."
Yet Shriram said he would be worried if one of the big carriers like Verizon or AT&T wins the spectrum auction. His take is that the result will be something less than an open platform for mobile application developers.
"It's very simple, either you have open access or you don't," Shriram said. "Is it open if you have to take your application to Verizon?"
To underscore what he described as a market dominated by a few giant carriers, he noted that Apple's decision on which carrier to choose for the iPhone network in the U.S. came down to AT&T and Verizon.
Tauke disputed the near-monopoly idea, saying there are four nationwide wireless carriers and none have more than 25 percent of the market. Tauke also insisted that it's important the spectrum is licensed and regulated because there are interference issues with other devices that are not a factor with fixed spectrum.
Shriram said he'd be happy if the auction results in device standards that are clearly specified, enabling developers to more easily deploy applications. He said in the current system, if a developer has a mobile application, he or she has to be sure to get a distribution deal with a carrier before even trying to secure funding.
Added Varsavsky, "There are some fights in America that in Europe we can't believe. How can content and transport companies fight all the time?"