FCC ‘Cures’ for Wireless ‘Spectrum Crunch’ May Be Slow in Arriving

Published January 12, 2011

Calling wireless spectrum “the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski argues the United States faces an impending “spectrum crunch.”

In prepared remarks made January 7 at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Genachowski told his audience: “Spectrum is becoming increasingly essential to the daily lives of almost every American. This invisible infrastructure is the backbone of a growing percentage of our economy and our lives,” before stating the “coming spectrum crunch threatens American leadership in mobile and the benefits it can deliver to our economy and our lives.”

Genachowski’s prepared remarks referred to FCC findings that approximately one half of all contemporary electronics approved by the FCC had three or more wireless transmitters, compared to only 7 percent two years ago. The FCC estimates an additional 300MHz of spectrum will be required by 2014.

“It’s time to take the necessary steps to ensure that spectrum will be the great enabler of mobile innovation in the 21st century, not a chokepoint,” he said. “I believe incentive auctions are a test of whether the U.S. can make the right strategic choices in a complex and fast-moving digital economy.”

‘Growth Could Hit Wall’
The FCC regulates spectrum and usage and has developed the FCC National Broadband Plan, calling for freeing 300 megahertz of spectrum “suitable for mobile-flexible use” within five years, which the agency says could add $100 billion to the economy by 2015.

But five years could be too long, so some companies are pushing the FCC to move with a little more haste in freeing up additional bandwidth.

“The mobile information economy and its growth will hit a wall if customers’ ability to consume high-bandwidth applications and content starts to get constrained,” said Anandan Jayaraman, chief product and strategy officer of Connectiva Systems, New York.

“The FCC can play a huge role in enabling and accelerating the adoption of mobile broadband and applications by freeing the 300 MHz of spectrum for additional use,” Jayaraman continued. “As we all know, mobile is emerging as the next wave of productivity for both consumers and businesses, and a high-speed pipe to every handset is a prerequisite to unlock the hundreds of billions of dollars in increased consumer spending and cost savings through higher collaboration and productivity.”

‘More Demand Than Spectrum’
Jeff Kagan, a wireless and telecom analyst based in Atlanta, Georgia., agrees the FCC plan “is definitely too slow” to meet the demands of the wireless market, which he said needs the additional spectrum now.

“I’ve been following this issue for a long time,” Kagan said. “There is a limited amount, and there is more demand than there is spectrum. The question is how to proportion it. The wireline and cable companies have their spectrum, and they’re holding on to it for future needs. The companies that need more right now are the wireless companies. Their business has grown so quickly over the last several years that they are bone dry in terms of spectrum to provide additional services.

“The government doesn’t tend to move as quickly as the marketplace needs. If the government is going to do something, they should do it now,” he added.

Kagan says the cable and wireline companies are also eyeing that additional spectrum, but unlike wireless companies they have no immediate need for it.

“Hopefully by the time [wireline and cable companies] need additional spectrum, technology will have advanced to the point that we are more efficient and know how to slice it into smaller pieces. That’s typically what happens—technology will be more advanced two or three years from now when others might need additional spectrum.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

On the Internet:

“Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum,” Federal Communications Commission OBI White Paper, October 2010: http://www.heartland.org/infotech-news.org/article/29001/Mobile_Broadband_The_Benefits_of_Additional_Spectrum.html.

Prepared Remarks of Chairman Julius Genachowski, Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, Nevada, January 7, 2011: http://www.heartland.org/infotech-news.org/article/29129/Prepared_Remarks_for_2011_Consumer_Electronics_Show.html