Q&A with former FCC chair Tom Wheeler

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

GTB caught up with Tom Wheeler, who stepped down from the US regulator in January, to talk net neutrality, telecoms, and his new role with IoT firm Actility

Tom Wheeler 680x400

Q| What have been your main activities since you left the FCC in January?

Aspen Institute always gives retiring FCC chairs a fellowship to help them decompress; that expires the end of this month. Following that I will be joining Brookings Institution in June and will teach at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School in the 2017-2018 academic year. In addition, I’m talking to other companies about board positions, have been doing some consulting, have signed with Leading Authorities for speaking, and am working on a new book.


Q| What would you consider your biggest achievement during your time as FCC chairman?

We focused on four areas; (1) Access - including spectrum (AWS-3 auction, broadcast incentive auction, opening up 5G spectrum), broadband connections for schools, libraries, and rural areas, and a new subsidy for low income Americans to access broadband, (2) Open Internet, (3) privacy, and (4) cybersecurity.

Q| Net neutrality was a highly controversial issue during your time at the FCC. Do you have any regrets over the policy, its implementation or the subsequent battles with the major carriers?

Absolutely not! The success of the internet came from the fact that it was open in the dial-up and DSL eras; that should continue in the broadband era. We designed a set of rules similar to the rules that have governed the wireless industry (which the industry sought) for 25 years. The rules establish basic common carrier responsibilities and forbear from traditional monopoly regulation. Under these rules, the wireless industry experienced tremendous growth in investment, services and subscribers and I expect the same to hold true under the Open Internet rule’s similar approach.

Q| What do you feel are the biggest growth opportunities in telecoms?

Web 3.0, of which IoT is the opening act, will take advantage of the marriage of Moore’s Law and ubiquitous wireless connectivity. It will redefine the nature of how we use the network. The result will be both new products and services and increased business productivity. 5G will also be a significant opportunity for “wireless fibre,” yet, whereas IoT is an opportunity available today, 5G is still many years in the future for full implementation.

Q| What are the major attributes of Actility as a company?

Olivier Hersent, Actility’s founder and CTO, was the co-developer of LoRaWAN and then built a company to take advantage of that technology while agnostically working with all other networks as well. Because Actility was first to market with a solution set there are already many real world deployments underway in many different use cases, with different IoT equipment, and different networks. As a result, the company has reached a level of maturity where they have moved beyond being consumed by the development of technology and are more able to listen to consumers and deliver to their needs. There are many IoT devices, solutions and potential networks; what Actility offers is a platform that provides the user a simple solution to orchestrate all these different capabilities inexpensively while integrating with the user’s OSS and BSS functions.

Q| IoT is a vastly growing market, with almost every telco making a play in the sector. What do you feel makes Actility stand out?

No one has as much background and experience in helping customers realize the potential of IoT. For instance, Actility’s technology leadership led the way to roaming between networks, which in turn, has drawn new partners to the ecosystem. It’s technology agnostic capabilities means the ThingPark platform will support devices connected over 3GPP cellular technologies, LTE-M, and NB-IoT. With the new Abeeway technology Actility is now offering location based capabilities combining GPS, A-GPS, and WiFi sniffing into a single flexible ability to find, track, or geofence any connected IoT sensor through a simple API. In other words, Actility has the full package of capabilities necessary to realize the potential of IoT.

Q| Last year saw the introduction of standards for LP-WAN, most notably LTE-M and NB-IoT. Actility has been one of the major supporters of LoRaWAN – is this still a viable IoT platform now?

Yes…and it is complimentary to 3GPP as evidenced by how many carriers such as Orange, Swisscom, APT, and Bouygues have deployed LoRaWAN in parallel to their own network solutions. The world of IoT is not a “one size fits all” environment. LoRaWAN and carrier networks each meet specific needs. For instance, LoRaWAN’s power consumption translates into an order of magnitude reduction in battery size and cost, and the ability to use unlicensed spectrum increases deployment flexibility, especially in campus settings. What is important – and a key Actility advantage – is that Actility can work with any air interface, including roaming between networks. Customers want the solutions IoT offers, they can build it themselves, or they can work with a carrier – either way, Actility’s flexible capabilities lower costs and ease deployment.