Over at Marginal Revolution Tyler has a neat post on software radio; the post also includes some useful background links that I will not reproduce here.
Tyler (and Robin) are right: this is huge. Over and over we see technological change moving the scarcity constraints facing us. In this case, it’s radio spectrum that will become more plentiful as radio interference diminishes through the use of this kind of technology.
In addition to what Tyler noted, I’d also like to point out that this technology makes the embryonic broadband over power wires technology more feasible and more commercially viable. For broadband over power wires to work, the signal has to “jump” the transformer that changes the voltage along the power line. The currently used technology for accomplishing that jump is standard wireless. Unfortunately, the proliferation of such wireless devices to jump transformers is very likely to create a lot of radio interference. This means that otherwise tech dynamist folks who are ham radio operators and have backgrounds in shortwave oppose broadband over power wires, not because of the concept, but because the wireless used to jump the transformers creates so much interference in their slice of the spectrum. This technology will lessen that conflict.
As a coda, another way that analog-to-digital converters could affect the electric power industry is that these converters have made it possible to monitor and gather data in real time on energy current flowing through a wire. Analog-to-digital conversion makes it technologically possible to unbundle the sale of electricity to end customers from the sale of the wire transmission service used to transport the electricity to the end customer. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment (by which I mean the symbiotic co-dependency of the regulator and the vertically integrated regulated firm) prevents that unbundling from occurring, depriving customers of the opportunity to procure their electricity from dynamic, competitive retailers.