Scientists urge governments to turn old TV frequencies into free “super WiFi”

Governments should sack plans to auction off old television frequencies to the highest bidder and instead use the bandwidth for free super-frequency WiFi if they want to boost the economy, scientists have said.

Old television frequencies are becoming available for other uses around the world, thanks to a switch from analogue to digital transmission.

However, while governments are for the most part auctioning these off to whoever is prepared to pay the most – usually mobile phone networks – they should instead be using the frequencies to create free-to-use, wide-range WiFi, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have said.

This new “super WiFi” would have a far wider range than existing WiFi networks, which are mostly transmitted over wireless local area networks (WLAN) at frequencies of 2GHz or above.

laptop-wifi

WiFi transmitted over old TV frequencies could be transmitted at lower frequencies than traditional WiFi, resulting in a far wider area covered. This super WiFi’s coverage area could even be as big as several kilometres in radius, a massive improvement on existing networks.

This would mean that pricey mobile services such as 4G were no longer required, which the scientists believe would lead to more mobile internet use, and a wealth of economic benefits.

“Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences,” said Arnd Weber of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at KIT.

“Individuals, institutions and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit.”

In addition to providing direct, measurable cost savings, the technology could, according to the researchers, result in the development of a host of new technologies just as existing WiFi has.

It could also provide direct benefits during disaster scenarios, as a means of providing updates and enabling communication.

tablet-wifi

However, the big challenge here is convincing governments that this is the right move.

Many have argued they these frequencies are common property and therefore should be made available to the public free of charge, a view that has been opposition from a number of people, including the late Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase.

Coase argued that the frequencies should be auctioned off to ensure they are most effectively used, and the money used by governments to fund other services.

Others have also argued that congestion would make these lower frequency networks unworkable, however Weber and his colleague Jens Elsner argue that it is possible to avoid such congestion with the right technological approach.

Ultimately, convincing governments will be a matter of showing that long-term economic benefits greatly outstrip the short-term financial gains of an auction.

While Weber and Elsner plan to make this case at the UN World Radiocommunication Conference next year, they will no doubt struggle to get many governments onboard.

In the long run, though, those of us living in areas where auctions have gone ahead could find ourselves quite jealous of the countries that choose the super WiFi option.


Featured image courtesy of gunes t, inline images courtesy of Mr. Theklan


Mark Zuckerberg: VR goal is still 5-10 years away

Mark Zuzkerberg has said that the true goal of virtual reality could still be a decade away, in a testimony during a high-profile court case against his company.

Facebook, as owner of Oculus, is currently in the middle of being sued by ZeniMax Media for allegedly stealing technology for the virtual reality device. If proved guilty, they will be pursued for the amount of $2bn by ZeniMax.  However, perhaps more pertinent to the actual future of virtual reality are comments arising from Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.

As it currently stands, virtual reality is still a far cry from being integrated into everyday life on a wide scale. Oculus, HTC Vive and Playstation VR are still largely targeting gamers and the idea of entertainment experiences. While they have found varying levels of success, all three platforms are being held back by the youth of the technology and, in the case of Vive and Oculus, the limited by the need for a high performing computer to plug into.

Image and featured image courtesy of Oculus

“I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully there yet,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.”

The revelation isn’t a particularly shocking one; even the most ardent believer in virtual reality has to admit that we’re a fair way off the goal. Indeed, we can be seen as being in the first wave of mainstream virtual reality, with the main players in the tech using gaming as a way to introduce the technology to a group that are most likely to be interested from the off.

Zuckerberg has far grander plans than simply expanding the user base however, as seen with projects such as Facebook Social VR. If games are the entry, the idea is to expand virtual reality to become a whole new computing platform used for a bevy of experiences and containing a whole load of tools. The ambition is high, the reality slightly lagging behind.

Mark Zuckerberg with Priscilla Chan in 2016

When asked about the realisation of VR as this new computing platform, Zuckerberg replied: “These things end up being more complex than you think up front. If anything, we may have to invest even more money to get to the goals we had than we had thought up front.”

He then went on to add that the probable investment for Facebook to reach that goal is likely to top the $3bn mark over the next ten years. Considering the social media giant spent $2bn just to acquire Oculus, this represents a truly colossal investment in something that seemed to be initially set to hit a lot sooner. Admittedly the goal is rather grand: providing hundreds of millions of people with a good virtual reality experience transcending gaming alone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s very important that you know that Mark Zuckerberg did in fact wear a suit to trial. Whether Palmer Luckey, making his first public appearance since his Gamergate/Trump support scandal last year, will manage to ditch the flip flops when he testifies is yet to be seen.

Historic Seasteading agreement to see floating city built in French Polynesia

A landmark agreement has been signed between the government of French Polynesia and the Seasteading Institute that lays the foundations for the establishment of a floating city in the country’s waters.

Signed on Friday, 13th January, the agreement will see the government and non-profit cooperate to develop a legal framework for what they are now calling The Floating Island Project.

Although located within the territorial waters of French Polynesia, the floating island will have its own governing framework and economic regulations, allowing it to attract businesses with offers of low – if any – taxation and little red tape.

However, it should also offer significant benefits to the nation, by not only bringing jobs and preventing a brain drain on the archipelagos, but also offering resilience to rising sea levels associated with climate change.

“Our seasteading collaboration with French Polynesia was initiated by the Tahitians themselves and will bring jobs, economic growth, and environmental resiliency to the region,” explained Randolph Hencken, executive director of the Seasteading Institute.

“Signing the memorandum of understanding with French Polynesia is an important first step, and a huge milestone for seasteading.”

Images courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

The agreement is a vital step in what has already been a long journey towards the development of such a floating city. Back in September, a delegation from the Seasteading Institute examined multiple sites around French Polynesia, as well as meeting with several of the nation’s senior ministers.

Now a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed, the next steps will be to complete and extensive environmental assessments of the ocean and seabed, as well as the completion of an economic analysis by the Seasteading Institute to demonstrate the financial benefits to the nation.

“The Seasteading Institute and the government of French Polynesia will draw from the best practices of more than 4,000 existing Special Economic Zones around the world to create a ‘Special Economic SeaZone,’” added Hencken.

“The SeaZone will combine the advantages of French Polynesia’s geopolitical location with unique regulatory opportunities specifically designed to attract businesses and investors.”

When construction finally begins on the floating islands, it will be funded by investors in the Seasteading Institute, with a total anticipated cost somewhere between $10m and $50m. The floating platforms that will house the city have already been designed by Dutch engineering firm Blue21, meaning the focus now is on making the concept work for the area.

The organisation plans for many businesses on the floating island to be areas of clean-tech, meaning there are likely to be numerous skilled jobs available to the people of French Polynesia.

“We need to create new clean-tech and blue economy jobs for our youth, and this project has the potential to be a real game-changer locally,” said Marc Collins, former Minister of Tourism for French Polynesia. “This project could help us retain our bright minds, who would otherwise emigrate for work.”

However, with many of the country’s islands under threat from rising sea levels, the project also could provide a long-term survival solution for the nation.

“Polynesian culture has a long history of seafaring across the Pacific Ocean that will contribute to this ambitious project. More than most nations, our islands are impacted by rising sea levels, and resilient floating islands could be one tangible solution for us to maintain our populations anchored to their islands,” added Collins.

“For many Polynesians, leaving our islands is not an option.”