Pai’s first call: Julie Knapp, please don’t go

Julie-KnappThe quiet man at the FCC engineering office is one of the best. Howard Buskirk says Julie is leaving, a major blow. He survives the politics at the FCC by keeping a low profile, but every engineer who goes through Washington knows him well. He can go one on one with top CTOs or Professors and earn their respect. He’s one of the few in the industry with a broad enough knowledge to look years ahead. 

Will universal service funding be obsolete in a few years because of the low latency LEO satellites? Is 5G millimeter wave going to be a competition killer? Was wireless ready to displace DSL and cable, as some people told the broadband plan? Ask Julie and you get a well-informed answer, including an “I don’t know if he doesn’t.”

At the FCC, on important decisions, The Eight Floor – the Commissioners – are said to ignore everyone else, especially the technical staff. Every other regulator I know – France, England, China – make sure at least one of the decision makers has enough of a technical background to point out to the others when the usual influence peddlers are lying. (In D.C., they are almost all lawyers including many former politicians. Many are very good at persuasion. With salaries up to $16M (David Cohen, Comcast,) you get some of the best. Some of them – Tom Tauke, David Young – are skilled enough to make their points without abusing the truth. Most don’t care, as long as they aren’t caught.

There are two open seats, one Democrat and one Republican. (I’ve never talked politics with Julie so I don’t know which he is.) Ajit Pai would be proving he deserves the job if he offered one of them to Julie to keep him in the building.

He’s been at the FCC long enough to know how things work and will do an excellent job. 

Another excellent choice would be Bill Smith, just retired after running the networks at BellSouth and AT&T for two decades. He served on several D.C. commissions, etc. and knows the ropes. He’s a Southern gentleman who is a pleasure to know and work with, I’m told. Also, he’s a world-class engineer.

Ajit – your move.

About those questions, here’s my opinion. Julie would never go on the record about anything controversial. 

Can LEO satellites replace expensive rural landlines? They are going up ten at a time on the new rockets. When the Falcon 9 nailed its first landing after launching 11 satellites, I thought LEO for remote areas was the future. Tim Farrar, the leading analyst in this space, recently wrote me he thought they wouldn’t have the capacity.

Is 5G millimeter wave going to be a competition killer? It will be brutally expensive to build all the stations required by the short reach of 5G millimeter wave. It will certainly be impossible to build four networks; there wouldn’t be enough customers to support them. From Fran Shammo of Verizon to Mike Murphy of Nokia, there’s skepticism about the payoff to a single network, much less three or four. The CTO of a multi-billion dollar company in this space privately agreed with me, saying, “mmWave is an incumbent’s game.” Since then, Chet Kinojiia has claimed Starry has brought the cost of mmWave (not 3GPP 5G) down so far many could deploy it to compete. I initially thought his claims preposterous but he’s since described them to me in detail. Nothing is proven in the field, but he may just have a breakthrough. 

Was/is wireless capable of replacing landline broadband? In 2010, several of those working with the Broadband plan looked closely and came to the conclusion it just didn’t have the capacity to be more than a very partial substitute. We proved to be right. It’s coming closer now, as wireless technology advances. Speeds of 50-150 megabits are now common. AT&T is discussing introducing a service with a150 gigabyte cap. That’s not enough to watch 4-6 hours of TV every night, but getting closer. See Wireless Abundance is here: What Gig LTE, Massive MIMO, mmWave, and more can mean

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