At Columbia's School of Engineering, I was very pleased to attend the Armstrong lecture given by Dr. Irwin Mark Jacobs. He gave a fascinating talk about Qualcomm's founding, how it emerged from a previous company called Linkabit and how he views technological progress. It was both interesting and inspiring to hear from someone whose innovations have profoundly changed the world.
Among the points he made during the Q&A portion of the lecture was a reflection on the current sorry state of the Lightsquared venture. For those who haven't been following it, Lightsquared is an effort to create a nationwide wireless network capable of competing with other carriers and potentially creating greater consumer choice. It's run into a political buzz saw, as its very existence faces virulent objections from users of GPS devices. Here's the issue: The reason the GPS people object to the new technology is that it interferes with their operations. But, as Jacobs pointed out, the problem is that GPS devices in their millions were not designed to stay within the spectrum they are legally supposed to. Instead, many of the receivers operate in such a way that they bleed into Lightsquare's spectrum. In other words, it isn't Lightsquared's fault that the devices used inadequately engineered components.
Be that as it may, as Dr. Jacobs noted, you'll never solve a political problem with an engineering solution; and you can't count on competition living within the rules.