Marty Cooper’s Billion Dollar Spectrum Contest Idea

by Steve Wildstrom   |   December 4th, 2012

Martin Cooper photo (S. Wildstrom)
It has been almost 40 years since Martin Cooper made the mobile phone call that earned him the title of father of the cell phone. Today he is still active in the industry, looking for ways to make mobile better. Like many others, he thinks t5hat finding enough spectrum to handle soaring wireless data usage is the great challenge. Unlike many, however, he has ideas that go beyond reallocating a limited pool of wireless spectrum.

One of his concerns is that what has been spectacular growth in the efficiency of spectrum use has slowed. “There’s not much motivation for the people who have the spectrum to get more efficient,” he says. “Why should they get more efficient when all they have to do is ask for more spectrum? Yes, they have to pay for it, but the cost of spectrum at auction is the bargain of the century. Just think about it. You may spend $1 billion to get a piece of spectrum but that spectrum is going to double in value every 2½ years.”

So Cooper, who has spent many years working on smart antenna technology that would allow more effective reuse of spectrum, has an idea to create an incentive. “One possible way, and a way that I suggest would be really valuable for the government to get people to operate more efficiently, is what I call the Presidential Prize. Suppose the government offers the industry the opportunity to get, say, 10 MHz of spectrum free of charge, no auction price or anything, All you’d have to do to get that 10 MHz of spectrum is demonstrate that you could operate at least 50 times more efficiently than existing people.  Well, if somebody could do that, they’d have the equivalent spectrum of 50 times 10 MHz, or 500 MHz of spectrum today.

“So my suggestion is let’s have a contest to see who can get to 50 times improvement over the next 10 years or so. It’s going to cost a lot of money to do that, but we’re going to find that we’ll have some new carriers , people that have made substantial investments, and we’ll now be using the spectrum more efficiently. The spectrum belongs to us, to the public, not to the carriers. We only lease it to the carriers, and they are supposed to operate in the public interest. It is in the public interest to use that spectrum efficiently and make it available to more and more people. The only way to do that is to get the cost down.”

You can see much more of my interview with Cooper, including video, on Cisco’s The Network.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Bob Huenemann

    In recent months, I have seen several accounts in
    the press discussing Martin Cooper’s role in the development of the cell phone.
    I worked for Martin at Motorola Communications and Industrial Electronics
    (C&IE) from November 1959 to June 1960. Motorola was developing the latest
    in a series of two way radio products of ever smaller size. These developments
    were part of an evolutionary process that led eventually to the cell phone. I
    was fresh out of school and my contributions were of no particular significance.

    But let me tell you about something I observed on a
    daily basis at Motorola’s plant in Chicago. Motorola C&IE had two black
    employees. They tended an incinerator on the opposite side of the parking lot
    from the plant. They were not allowed into the building. Not to take a break or
    eat lunch. Not to use the rest rooms. Not to warm up in the middle of Chicago’s
    sub zero winters. And my fellow employees would take their breaks at the second
    floor windows overlooking that parking lot, and they would make insulting,
    racist comments about the two black employees.

    I went to human relations, and in the most
    non-confrontational way that I could muster I asked why Motorola did not employ
    on the basis of ability, without regard to race. And at my six month review, I
    was terminated.

    You don’t have to take my word concerning Motorola’s
    employment policies. In September of 1980, Motorola agreed to pay up to $10
    million in back pay to some 11,000 blacks who were denied jobs over a seven-year
    period and to institute a $5 million affirmative action program, according to
    the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    I have a question for Martin Cooper. Marty, what did you
    ever do to challenge the blatant, toxic racial discrimination at
    Motorola?

    • Anonymous98

      Robert,why:

      1.have you chosen to spray this 40-years old complaint all over the Internet? I have found at least 42 places where you have pasted this complaint word-for-word onto news websites that wrote an article about Dr. Cooper. Don’t you have an original idea?

      2.why are you complaining to news outlets? They can’t do anything and your ont-of-date allegations are not going to cause them to suddenly cover this topic.

      3. as you noted, Motorola did settle with black employees from this period that was before the landmark Civil Rights legislation of the 1960′s. These harms have been addressed and resolved, and as you know Motorola no longer behaves in this manner — like most other American corporations.

      So, please — for all of us — just shut up, already!

      Find something more useful to do than spraying decades-old discrimination allegations at Dr. Cooper in an attempt to sully the reputation of one of the great inventors of our time. You’re wasting everyone’s time with this useless one-man smear campaign.

  • Bob Huenemann

    In recent months, I have seen several accounts in
    the press discussing Martin Cooper’s role in the development of the cell phone.
    I worked for Martin at Motorola Communications and Industrial Electronics
    (C&IE) from November 1959 to June 1960. Motorola was developing the latest
    in a series of two way radio products of ever smaller size. These developments
    were part of an evolutionary process that led eventually to the cell phone. I
    was fresh out of school and my contributions were of no particular significance.

    But let me tell you about something I observed on a
    daily basis at Motorola’s plant in Chicago. Motorola C&IE had two black
    employees. They tended an incinerator on the opposite side of the parking lot
    from the plant. They were not allowed into the building. Not to take a break or
    eat lunch. Not to use the rest rooms. Not to warm up in the middle of Chicago’s
    sub zero winters. And my fellow employees would take their breaks at the second
    floor windows overlooking that parking lot, and they would make insulting,
    racist comments about the two black employees.

    I went to human relations, and in the most
    non-confrontational way that I could muster I asked why Motorola did not employ
    on the basis of ability, without regard to race. And at my six month review, I
    was terminated.

    You don’t have to take my word concerning Motorola’s
    employment policies. In September of 1980, Motorola agreed to pay up to $10
    million in back pay to some 11,000 blacks who were denied jobs over a seven-year
    period and to institute a $5 million affirmative action program, according to
    the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See the attached
    PDF file for details.

    I have a question for Martin Cooper. Marty, what did you
    ever do to challenge the blatant, toxic racial discrimination at
    Motorola?

    Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.
    120 Harbern Way
    Hollister, CA 95023-9708
    831-635-0786
    bobgh@razzolink.com
    https://sites.google.com/site/bobhuenemann/
    Extra
    Class Amateur Radio License W6RFW