1990 marked 1 million cellular phones in the U.S. (there are over 300 million today). To support these phones the first cellular networks were created using very tall towers to operate. The purpose was to transmit large “cells” that could cover as wide an area as possible so subscribers could connect with the network. But as demand for cell phones grew the capacity of these cells filled up. New base stations were built using different antennas and the bandwidth was multiplied with frequency reuse.
Still, with every passing year came rising performance demands and requirements for higher data capacity. Eventually it became apparent that the way cellular networks were originally conceived and built was forcing inefficiencies and constraints on the overall growth of the industry. Cell phone performance was actually getting worse with every new phone. Something had to be done.
To meet the needs of the market new radio spectrum became available and with it rethinking of solutions for data and performance. The resulting 3G networks were entirely new and non backwards compatible. They were built ground up in every regard and because of that far surpassed the performance of the legacy networks. They became known as “greenfield” networks and are directly responsible for multi-billions of dollars in revenues for everyone from Apple to Verizon to Google to AT&T…and beyond.
It struck me sometime ago that the performance issues faced by first and second generation of cellular communications are markedly similar to those being faced by web publishers a little more than a decade after the rise of display advertising. Ad inventory increases exponentially; ad networks built to handle it are failing and demand for performance increases unabated. There are doubts if online advertising will ever be able to support digital content creation and nothing less than the future of journalism hangs in balance. We’ve reached same inflection point where cellular technology was prior to 3G.
Luckily, the similarities continue. Just as new spectrum became available for cellular networks, new web data is becoming available to advertisers. Publishers, who for the last decade have played little-to-no role in the advancement of advertising-technology, are starting to make their data spectrum available so web engineers can build better solutions.
But releasing ‘publisher spectrum’ while landmark and progressive is not enough. Just like cellular communications that spectrum requires an obligation for fresh thinking around Publisher monetization problems. The lesson from greenfield networks for Publishers is that large performance improvements will only come via newly created stand-alone technology that are not restricted in performance or delivery by any part of display's legacy architecture. No major advances in any technology are backwards compatible.
With new solutions built using publisher spectrum performance will increase by an order of magnitude, new revenue opportunities will flourish and old ones will become even more valuable. When it is all said and done advertisers, publishers and consumers will harvest a bounty from these greenfields. Display advertising needs 3G. It is time to leave the past completely behind and build the future.