Millimeter Waves Or: Network Tax in Space

Granted, nobody knows what the network tax will be or indeed if it will ever happen. What we have is speculation and telco Xmas wishes. The idea that the sender should pay for the traffic in the network (in addition to the fees paid already by the subscribers).

In fact, the sender already pays, and also invests in the infrastructure. Take a look at your own internet subscription and you will find that the bandwidth has one figure for download and one for upload (sometimes they match, but no rule) for example 1000/100 Mbps – that means the capacity for transfer from the internet is 1000 megabits per second, but the transfer speed from your end-point to the internet is only 10th of that – 100 megabits per second. Guess what: you can increase your upload capacity by buying a better plan. The sender pays. The same business logic applies to anyone with a server. Of course, the uploader will often use a different service provider than the downloader, so the telecoms charge each other for transit traffic. (And throttle it to maximize their profit). With upload and download fees, both senders and consumers pay: telcos are already charging both ends of the pipe. The concept of network tax does not really add a new revenue stream but rather a regulation increasing an existing one. And yes, the services and platforms already invest in infrastructure, namely in the “middle-mile”: such as sub-oceanic cables and content-delivery networks. Not to mention how telcos often sell package deals with content services, effectively integrating them in their consumer offer and relying on that value to attract customers. (Remember zero-rating for Facebook? Telcos chose to sugarcoat their subscriptions by excluding popular services from the monthly data allowance.)

It’s not like the telecoms have a natural monopoly on data traffic (though sometimes you can get the impression that they would love to). The Starlink satellite internet is now combat-proven in Ukraine and has 2000+ satellites providing decent bandwidth and okay latency also in parts of Europe where mobile and fiber struggle. (Musk got it right this time. Who thinks Starlink will have zero-rating for Twitter?) Other satellite internet initiatives exist – you may have used satellite internet on an airplane, dear reader. Should content services pay… network tax in space? Not to mention Google’s balloon internet. Not sure humanity would benefit long-term from GAAFA also owning the last mile-infrastructure, but it makes sense for them to find ways to by-pass the telcos. Or perhaps they should pay the network tax to…  themselves?

Not even mobile networks are the exclusive domain of telecoms, for example the Swedish communication system for police, fire department, ambulance services and other such functions is called Rakel and it runs nation-wide on its own base-stations (in one of the biggest member states by land area). Not that Rakel will stream movies anytime soon, but it proves that there is no need for a telco in order to build and run a mobile network.

WRAN is a technology that uses wi-fi to cover larger areas and provide data traffic. The evolution of mobile network technologies follows the opposite trajectory of shorter wavelengths/higher frequencies and a denser network of base-stations. 3G was 400 MHz to 3 Ghz, 4G is up to 3,8 GHz, 5G is 2-6 GHz. 6G is envisioned to have even shorter wavelengths – so-called “millimeter waves” and frequencies 30-300 GHz (or even higher according to some sources) – and thus even smaller antennae. (One telecom engineer this writer spoke with explained that 6G base stations might be in the form of paint on a wall!). It is already the case that wi-fi technology (6-300GHz) overlaps mobile networks and we can only expect that trend to continue. The lines are blurring.

When everyone is a telco, who should receive the network tax payment? No wonder the telecoms regulators are skeptical.