Add iPhone and Stir

Have you ever wanted to write an article for the business press? It's never been as easy as it is today. Take a top headline topic and find a way to mention the iPhone, even if you have to search desperately for a source or invent the connection itself — and even if it's preposterous on the face of it. It's that simple.

Business Week followed this new formula earlier this week when it reported that Apple might bid in January's 700 MHz wireless mega-auction. Let me say this as simply as possible: it would make absolutely no sense for Apple to bid on the spectrum and build a nationwide wireless network from scratch. And so they won't do it. And BusinessWeek knows this. Watch how the story goes from headline:

Apple Eyes the Wireless Auction

to qualification (by the second paragraph!):

Two sources tell BusinessWeek that Steve Jobs & Co. have studied the implications of joining the auction, which will be held Jan. 16. The winners will get rights to use the spectrum that analog TV broadcasters are handing back to the government in 2009, given their mandated move to digital television.

to repudiation (by the fourth paragraph):

At this point, says one of the sources, Apple is leaning against participating in the auction.

Of course Apple has looked at the auction, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Apple invest in a bid that would lead to a new nationwide wireless broadband network. Keep in mind that any network using that spectrum is going to take years to build - a timing that could work well for Apple, which is locked into AT&T as the iPhone's exclusive carrier in the U.S. for five years. But that's a far cry from bidding.

Naturally, once BusinessWeek opened the door, the story quickly spun out of control, not just among bloggers but elsewhere inf the business and trade press, where, sadly, independent reporting and even, sometimes, thought, is becoming a rare commodity. Typical was Katherine Noyes's in MacNewsWorld:

Spectrum Gets Nibble From Apple

Apple reportedly may be a bidder in the Federal Communications Commission's January auction of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum.

If you're thinking of following the new formula and becoming a business story writer yourself, note some of the standard tricks of the trade — "nibble," a word that has essentially no meaning, and "reportedly may be," which lets you say pretty much anything about anything: all you have to do is find one person who says something might happen.

[ADDED: While Noyes's article is typical, the award for goofiest has to go to CNet blogger Don Reisinger and his "Could Apple destroy the cell phone industry?" in which he speculates, among other things, that Apple could spend tens of billions on spectrum and infrastructure all to create an otherwise fallow wireless field for iPhone users to graze on. Thanks to Sally Adee here at Spectrum for the link. ]

Of course, the door had already been opened by all the stories that Google may bid on the spectrum. Again, reporters are underestimating the difficulty of building a new network. Take Clearwire, just about the only effort along those lines that we can point to.

Clearwire is building precisely the sort of network Google has in mind, a 1.5 Mb/s cellular broadband service. It was formed in 2003 by arguably the smartest guy in wireless, Craig McCaw, who build the country's first nationwide cellular network before selling it to AT&T for $11 billion. Even with $1 billion in financing over and above the costs of spectrum, Clearwire cannot go it alone, and it will be teaming up with Sprint, which is using the same technological foundation (WiMax, that is, IEEE 802.16) for its own wireless broadband network.

When it comes to a 700 MHz network, like Apple, Google may invest, but it's not going to build it. It hasn't even tried to build the modest city-wide Wi-Fi networks that it's involved in — the job of creating infrastructure falls to Earthlink and Google's other partners.

I'll have more to say about Clearwire and Sprint in future postings and in a January feature article. They are, after all, building the perfect iPhone network. But in the meantime, let's all take a deep breath and think logically about the 700 MHz auction and the iPhone. Unless the goal is simply to crank out bylines. In which case, look to the formula, and carry on.


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