The technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin—blockchain—has captured the world’s attention, much as the internet, peer-to-peer file transfers, apps, and the cloud did before it. Simply put, blockchains are distributed databases that can be securely updated without the need for central intermediaries. That makes them relevant to a whole host of uses, including everything from food safety to digital identity to insurance records. The jury is still out on most applications, but at the risk of adding to the ballyhoo, it’s time to add another possibility to the ever-growing list of blockchain uses: access to spectrum.
Spectrum may be invisible, but it is some of the most important infrastructure we have. The wireless frequencies used to transmit voice and data signals over the air keep us connected and facilitate everything from Wi-Fi to GPS to the Internet of Things.
As wireless uses proliferated during the past two decades, the Federal Communications Commission generally distributed spectrum by selling licenses for exclusive use at auction. The highest bidder would walk away from an auction of specific spectrum bands with the right to exclude others and to use the airwaves they secured any way they saw fit. At the same time, however, the FCC also kept some spectrum bands available for public access. This unlicensed spectrum was also important—in fact, it’s where Wi-Fi access takes place today.