Before the
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
United States Senate

July 27, 1995

Good morning. I am pleased to have this opportunity to describe for you Apple's vision of the wireless future and to give you a glimpse of what new technologies will make possible for Americans in every walk of life.

The Importance of Wireless Technologies

Several years ago, Apple recognized that there were two increasingly divergent trends in computing: mobility and networking.

People want their computers to be mobile: they want to take and use them wherever they are, whenever they want. They may be going only as far as a colleague's office or the local library or they may be traveling across the country or even around the world. But wherever they are, they want to have access to the information stored on their computer.

People also want their computers to tie into larger information resources. These may be local resources, like a company e-mail system or file sharer, or national resources, like the Library of Congress' card catalog or an information retrieval service, or networks, like the Internet, which link individuals to each other and to these shared sources of information.

Unfortunately, however, mobility and networking are impossible to reconcile in the wired world. As long as one must rely on wired technologies, one is tied to a telephone jack and must choose between mobility and networking.

Even if mobility is not a concern, wired technologies -- particularly broadband -- also suffer from physical and cost constraints that make it impossible or infeasible for them to be available universally. Some areas are too remote to wire on a cost-effective basis; others have natural or man-made barriers that prevent wiring. For example, many of America's older schools have asbestos in the walls, which means that one could not connect the classrooms using cables, even if one had the funds to accomplish this very costly task.

Wireless technologies, therefore, are critical, both to reconcile the desire for mobility with the desire for networking, as well as to provide a cost-effective solution for reaching those who are at risk of being bypassed by the wired infrastructure.

Technology Demonstration

I'd now like to show you an example of current technology. Due to existing spectrum constraints, the device I am about to show you operates at a very slow speed. That, however, is a question of spectrum availability, not of technology. With the FCC's recent "Data-PCS" allocation and Apple's proposed NII Band, which I will discuss in a moment. Apple and others could develop devices that could transmit at dramatically higher speeds, making it possible for devices to retrieve and transmit an array of video and graphic images, data streams, and even voice transmissions, as easily as I am doing here today.

This is a standard, off-the-shelf Apple computer, connected to a prototype Apple device that provides a wireless link between the computer and the Internet. With this device, I can connect to individuals and institutions worldwide, without wires, frequency coordination, or airtime charges.

It is easy to imagine what even this limited communications capability makes possible. You could bring your computer to a Committee hearing and, without ever leaving the dais, you could monitor floor votes and get urgent messages from your office. You could communicate with other Senators, or with your staff. If a witness said something that did not mesh with something you had heard before, you could pull up old testimony or a committee report in order to clarify the matter.

But this technology has value far beyond this Committee room. Students could use it to create links among themselves, or with teachers, the library, or the Internet. Computers could be moved from classroom to classroom, even desk to desk, as the need arises, without losing their ability to communicate. Students could take portable computers with wireless communications capabilities on field trips and use them to exchange data in the field. Researchers could use them in the lab, in their office, at home. Libraries could create user groups, or let individuals take the libraries' computers -- or an individual's own computer -- to a carrel or into the stacks, all the while staying connected to the library's electronic card catalog. Individuals could be linked together in ad hoc groups; groups could be linked together with a wireless local area network or tie into remote networks with a wireless modem.

Here are some concrete examples of what would be possible with adequate, appropriate spectrum allocations and technical rules:

* Connecting classrooms and libraries to the NII: It will soon be possible to transmit huge amounts of information -- data, voice, video, graphics, and multi-media -- across the country and around the world. But in many cases, it will be difficult to create the last link to the end user, especially those in a classroom or a library carrel. The NII Band can create those links, making it possible for students is a classroom in Nebraska to watch archaeologists retrieving artifacts from an archaeological dig half-way around the globe, while also pulling up information from the Library of Congress on the region's history, geography, and climate.

* Creating "community networks": The NII Band would make it possible for a local community -- a university, an tribal council, or an isolated town -- to create point-to-point links for use within the community, for example, connecting each of the schools, libraries, and government buildings to one another. This would permit not only increased communications within the community, but also could be used to aggregate local traffic and create a single community-wide connection to the broader information infrastructure. In addition, the community could add unlicensed local area networks to some of the network's end-points to create wireless mobility within a library, school, or government building.

* New health care solutions: With a wideband local area network, a hospital could transmit detailed patient information -- including x-rays, patient histories, lab reports, data analyses, photographs, etc. -- to the doctor at a patient's bedside, to an expert in another wing of the hospital, to the pharmacy, and to the nurses' station. This information could be displayed on a small, handheld "flat-pad" with a video screen that could be taken from room to room to assure that health care professional always have the information they need where they need it.

* Enhancing mobility for disabled persons: NII Band city-wide networks could communicate with wearable devices to help blind individuals and individuals with cognitive disabilities. For example, wearable devices could be equipped with a small video camera that would relay live video images to a remote computer capable of "reading" signs, recognizing objects (or even people) in the environment, and relaying this information (with appropriate instructions, when required) back to the individual.

The last application was described in comments on Apple's NII Band Petition filed with the FCC by a Senior Biomedical Research Engineer at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Atlanta, who is working on developing these kinds of technologies to improve the quality of life for aging veterans, many of whom are disabled. His participation is a reminder of one of the key attributes of unlicensed services: with unlicensed spectrum, a host of different people, with different interests and goals, will have a shared resource available with which to create solutions for their constituencies -- no one company will define for everybody what can, and can't, be done.

As I mentioned, however, these sorts of exciting applications will be possible only if the government makes adequate, appropriate spectrum allocations and the unlicensed bands are governed by appropriate technical rules -- the minimum necessary to assure equitable sharing of the spectrum resource. That is why Apple has devoted substantial resources for the past half-decade to developing unlicensed wireless data communications, and why it recently submitted a new proposal to the FCC that provides a blueprint for the wireless future.

The Data-PCS Petition for Rulemaking

More than five years ago, Apple recognized that the kind of device I just demonstrated would not be adequate to meet the growing need for larger bandwidth, more reliable, longer distance communications. These devices, referred to as "Part 15" devices, operate in relatively cluttered spectrum,, with limited amounts of spectrum available to them, and must be designed so as not to cause interference to any other spectrum user.

Yet Apple recognized that the unlicensed model was the right model. Apple is a computer manufacturer, not a communications service provider. It does not want an exclusive license, it does not want to be a service provider, and it does not want to charge people for use of the radio spectrum. Rather, the computer industry wishes to make data communications available as an enhancement of our products to extend the great success that the industry has had in advancing technology and transforming the way business is done and, increasingly, the way people live their lives.

So while the old unlicensed model was the right start, it needed some improvements. First, unlicensed users need dedicated spectrum; although they can share with some other users, they cannot operate on an "at sufferance" basis and they cannot be subject to the constant threat of new and hostile users being squeezed into the unlicensed band. Second, each of these devices must operate under a set of technical rules that assure that no one user, no one device, and no one type of communication can monopolize the shared spectrum resource.

Through this approach, technology can create a spectrum resource that is open to, and shared equitably by, all. The sharing "manager" of the band is designed into the devices themselves, principally through requirements that each communication be divided into individual "packets," that devices "listen" to make sure a channel is clear before they transmit, and that they transmit only for a fraction of a second before releasing the channel and looking for a new channel to transmit the next packet.

Hence, there is no need to divide the band between competing applicants -- any innovator is free, at any time, to design and sell compliant products for use in the band. Similarly, there is no need to divide the band between competing types of users -- any individual or group may buy compliant devices and create its own network. The spectrum remains a public resource.

Apple described this vision in its 1991 "Data-PCS" petition for rulemaking. Specifically, Apple asked the FCC to allocate 40 MHz of spectrum to a new, protected, unlicensed data communications service, which it called "Data-PCS." Data-PCS would let people unplug totally from the wall -- to communicate without wires using inexpensive devices purchased over the counter from an electronics store. It would dramatically improve the data rates that could be transmitted over unlicensed wireless networks, permitting users to "talk" at speeds of up to approximately 10 Mbps. And it would permit communications over ranges of up to approximately 50 meters.

After nearly five years of effort, the FCC recently allocated two 10 MHz spectrum blocks to Data-PCS. Through this decision, the FCC demonstrated in the most concrete way possible that it understands that information technologies must have access to license-free radio spectrum. The FCC also extended this unlicensed spectrum philosophy to new regions of the radio spectrum, when it recently proposed some 8 GHz of frequencies above 40 GHz for unlicensed use, particularly data communications. It will take some time to develop consumer technology for this part of the radio spectrum, but staking out the future is what the FCC should be doing.

The Wireless Future: Apple's NII Band Proposal

As exciting as these developments are, they are only a first step. Data-PCS is today's technology, but there are two appetites that it cannot satisfy: the appetite for more bandwidth and the appetite for longer-distance communications.

Computer communications have an enormous appetite for bandwidth. "Data" communications no longer means only textual information -- increasingly, it encompasses multi-media, graphics, and digitized video and voice transmissions, which require very large bandwidth "pipes" for delivery. For example, MPEG-3 compressed progressive video requires individual data streams of 18 Megabits per second. Moreover, in many settings multiple users will simultaneously seek to use wireless transmissions, further increasing the demand for a high-capacity resource. The Internet began as a network generally relying on leased 56 Kbps circuits to connect a limited number of sites; over time, it evolved to support DS-1 rates (1.544 Mbps), then 45 Mbps, then 155 Mbps connections. Now, high speed connections are becoming widely available, making it possible for businesses, interest groups, schoolchildren (and even adults) readily to use the World Wide Web. Wireless technologies must evolve in a similar manner in order to support high-capacity local networks and to create high-capacity wireless connections to the NII.

Some people also need new options for communicating over longer distances. Data-PCS devices are well suited to individuals seeking to communicate in an office, within a classroom, or across a conference table, but for rural communities that want to hook together their schools and libraries, or for an Indian reservation that wants to link together its council buildings, that is not enough.

To meet these emerging needs, on May 24 of this year, Apple filed its "NII Band" Petition for Rulemaking at the FCC. This Petition describes Apple's vision for the wireless future and gives the FCC a concrete proposal for implementing that vision.

Specifically, Apple requested a 300 MHz allocation in the 5 GHz band. Like the Data-PCS band, the NII Band would be used for packet-based transmissions and would be shared on an equitable basis. But unlike Data-PCS, it could support high-bandwidth, longer range communications.

Unlicensed devices are not a substitute for other licensed-wireless and wired technologies. For example, they will not support wide-area networks that permit roaming, such as cellular and PCS networks. Unlicensed devices, however, are an option that must be available if we are to maximize individuals' opportunities to compete in tomorrow's telecommunications marketplace, to develop cost-effective solutions, and to make it possible for rural and similar communities to connect to the information infrastructure with a minimum of government mandates. Moreover, unlicensed, high-bandwidth local and community connections will create new users and new applications for communications technologies, thereby stimulating demand for other communications services, such as long distance transmissions.

The FCC has a continuing role in making this vision a reality. The American public needs an enlightened, efficient manager of the spectrum to make the right choice between what is sold as a property to the highest bidder and what is granted to the public for the new, the promising, and for the common good. The FCC is the only agency that is able to play this role.

But the FCC should not over-regulate. Regulation can stifle innovation, locking individuals into outdated technologies and inapt solutions. Apple therefore has proposed that the technical rules for the NII Band be developed by the information industry, and be limited to the minimum required to assure equitable sharing.

I recognize that even this kind of limited, industry-developed regulation can be abused. For example, you may be aware, Mr. Chairman, that a number of us in the computer industry are very concerned that the ACATS effort to define digital TV standards is seriously off track. At best their solution is deeply mired in the best of 1970's technology. At worst, it is a conscious effort to keep TV separate from computing.

Similarly, I am concerned that in the guise of assuring access to the cable "set top box," some would overreach and attempt to dictate a single standard for home automation. I would be happy to make my experts in these areas available to you and your staff to discuss this in more detail, and just mention them now to assure you that I am not naive about the risks of regulatory excess.

That's why Apple believes that the FCC must also play a role in overseeing the development of technical rules for the NII Band, approving these rules when they are adopted or updated and assuring that no set of interests undermines the objective: minimal, technology-neutral, and equitable rules. I am confident that the solution Apple has proposed for regulating the NII Band is a workable combination of free market ingenuity and limited FCC oversight that will provide innumerable benefits to industry, to schools and libraries, to communities, and to individuals across the country.

While I have presented Apple's best guess about what the wireless future will look like, it is only an educated guess. The best thing about the NII Band is that no one company's vision will control or even approximate the reality that develops. If the computer industry has learned anything over the past decade, it is that, once people have a technology in their hands that is powerful, easy to use, and free of regulatory red tape, they will shape it to their needs in ways that we can't imagine now. They will create their own unique visions of the future. That is our goal for the NII Band.

Thank you for your time.