E Pluribus Unum Wireless

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- E Pluribus Unum is the Latin on your money. It means, roughly, "out of many, one."

That's what the Internet is, too -- many networks acting as a single network, because carriers move data first and talk about money later.

But if it were up to the carriers, the Internet might never have been invented.

I was a telecomm reporter 20 years ago and I remember it well. Owners of data networks wanted exclusive control of customers, or at least wanted to be paid first before taking other networks' data.

The Internet, with its government funding, offered another way. First you interoperate, under a single standard, and then we'll talk about who gets paid what for their infrastructure. It's called "peering," in that I take your traffic and you take mine, as Encyclopedia.com explains. It worked. It still works.

Peering was never demanded in the wireless space. Instead, the government sold exclusive use of frequency bands to the carriers. The result has been the creation of multiple incompatible networks, which is how the biggest carriers -- AT&T ( T) and Verizon ( VZ) -- like it.

Even the development of a single global standard for mobile broadband, LTE Advanced, hasn't pushed the big guys toward interoperability. It's not in AT&T's interests to be anything but a monopoly, or a shared monopoly with Verizon, as CNET notes.

When the rest of the industry, organized as the Competitive Carriers Association, which now includes Sprint ( S), tried to push AT&T toward interoperability, the bigger carrier simply refused, saying the group had other options, as Fierce Broadband Wireless reported.

Thus the wired Internet is, from the user's point of view, one network, while the wireless Internet is multiple networks. This means duplicated services in high-traffic areas, and no service at all in low-traffic areas.

For you to get a 10 MHz slice of spectrum for watching the football game, as seen on carrier commercials, there really needs to be 40 MHz available -- one 10 MHz slice for each carrier you may choose. And if a rural carrier is thinking of adding a cell tower in a remote location, it has to consider that only its customers will be able to use it, making the expense harder to justify.

So there is a new move afoot for shared spectrum, with databases used to match space to needs and identify whose customers are using what, as a Current Analysis report explains.

The Federal Communications Commission wants to try this first in the 3.5 GHz spectrum, a very high frequency that requires lots of cells to cover not much area. (It's midway between the low 2.4 Ghz WiFi band and the high 5 Ghz WiFi band, both of which are used on modern 802.11N routers.)

The idea is that a carrier might cover a shopping mall with small base stations, which all carriers could use, on frequency spectrum that might also be used by Air Force jets roaring over rural areas, as GigaOm reports.

Opposition is usually expressed as a technical concern about sharing frequencies with the government, as in this GigaOm story, but I think the real problem is carriers don't want to share with each other.

Monopolies are more profitable than competition to the monopolist, even if they restrict the size of a market. If we want a bigger market, a wireless Internet that's more like the wired, the government is going to have to fight the dominant carriers every step of the way.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in companies mentioned in this article. .

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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