Hedy’s Folly: Research on Spread Spectrum, Michael Marcus

Richard Rhodes’s Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, describes the invention of spread-spectrum radio by “legendary film siren Hedy Lamarr, [and] avant-garde composer George Antheil.”

The author cites an article by Michael Marcus presented at the Information Economy Project’s 2008 conference on The Genesis of Unlicensed Wireless: How Spread Spectrum Devices  Won Access to License-Exempt Bandwidth.  Information Economy Project Visiting Scholar, Dr. Marcus, published his research in an article circulated with conference papers in Volume 11 Issue 5 of INFO: The journal of policy, regulation and strategy for telecommunications, information and media, on “Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: The Path from Carter and Reagan-era Faith in Deregulation to Widespread Products Impacting our World.” 

Rhodes writes, “Instead, in line with Carter and Kahn’s emphasis on deregulation for economic growth, Ferris looked for innovative technologies hampered by what his assistant Michael J. Marcus calls ‘anachronistic technical regulations.’  There was a reason for the regulations, Marcus explains: ‘In the 1970s the spectrum technology area was highly concentrated, with only a few major manufacturers: Western Electric was the near-exclusive supplier of the local and long distance telecommunications industry, cellular was in its experimental stage, and the regulatory status quo was rather acceptable to the small ‘club’ of major manufacturers serving the US market, all of whom were domestic companies.  While regulations prevented rapid innovation, it [sic] also generally prevented both new entrants and technological surprise from the few competitors…” Rhodes p. 206-07.

“If all this bureaucratic infighting seems obscure, what followed from it is happily familiar. ‘The rules adopted,’ Marcus writes, ‘had a much greater impact than any of [their] advocates could have ever imagined at the time.  They enabled the development of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the majority of cordless phones now sold in the US, and myriad other lesser-known niche products.'” Rhodes p. 209

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