The paper reviews evidence from eight wireless markets: mobile broadband; wireless healthcare; smart grid communications; inventory management; access control; mobile payments; fleet management; and secondary markets in spectrum. Yochai Benkler finds that markets are adopting unlicensed wireless strategies in mission-critical applications, in many cases more so than they are building on licensed strategies. Eighty percent of wireless healthcare; seventy percent of smart grid communications; and forty to ninety percent of mobile broadband data to smartphones and tablets use unlicensed strategies. Unlicensed technologies are entirely dominant in inventory management and access control. For mobile payments, current major applications use unlicensed, and early implementations of mobile phone payments suggest there is no particular benefit to licensed strategies in this space. Fleet management is the one area where licensed technologies are predominant. However, UPS, owner of the second largest commercial fleet in the U.S., has implemented its fleet management system purely with unlicensed wireless, suggesting that even here unlicensed may develop attractive alternatives. By contrast to these dynamic markets, secondary markets in licensed spectrum have been anemic.
Market evidence suggests that unlicensed wireless strategies are becoming the primary approach for implementing wireless communications technology. As Congress and the FCC seek ways to transition away from older technologies, the paper recommends that they should adopt policies explicitly designed to assure that unlicensed wireless innovation has at least as much room to grow as licensed wireless approaches.