What’s Cooking in Europe

I’ve been spending some time in Europe recently. A couple of weeks ago I took part in a roundtable at the Karlsruhe Inst. of Technology in Germany on open spectrum that combined one of most interesting gatherings of people of different viewpoints and ranges of expertise ever assembled in one setting. The group included a former chief national regulator, the technologist who wrote the first IEEE 802 standard for beam-forming, a very serious grad student working with Software-Defined Radios, as well as a number of legal academics and economists. Together we explored the obstacles and value of the wireless third pipe, including the research problems that will need to be solved to make it a reality. This is the kind of gathering that’s rarely assembled in the USA.

And more recently, I took part in a series of presentations and a general discussion about openness on the wireless Internet. One of the other presenters was one of the Pirate Party’s Members of the European Parliament, and others were the top strategic thinkers and managers from TeliaSonera and Huchison Whampoa Europe. This event followed on the passage of the EU Telecoms Package that wisely added a disclosure rule to the European Common Law and just as wisely refrained from adding an anti-discrimination rule. Did you know that Huchison offers a 3G-only phone with Skype pre-installed? They do, and it took them a lot of work to get Skype to run successfully on it.

A year ago, I would have said that Europe was trailing the US on the regulatory front, but today it certainly appears they’re on a more sensible course than we are in many respects. It’s important for a regulator to be humble and not approach his task with too much enthusiasm and creativity. These are fine traits in an entrepreneur, but in the hands of government can lead to grief. It’s best that we each remember our respective roles, in other words. It’s in the nature of technology to change, and regulations that are too prescriptive alter the natural order of things.