The House Communications Subcommittee is expected to address spectrum as part of its fall agenda, as noted in a Sept. 6 Multichannel News piece. The aim, according to a committee agenda of its communications subcommittee priorities, is both to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband and, in the process, create new jobs.
As I wrote in the September issue of Next Gen Mobility, a new magazine from TMC, the call for additional spectrum for mobile broadband is no surprise given the growing capacity demands on new devices coming on the market. The demand placed on wireless spectrum by one smartphone is equivalent to 24 cell phones; a device running an Apple or Android operating systems equals 96 non-smartphones; and one tablet is equal to 122 cell phones.
To address what some are calling the spectrum crunch, some wireless service providers, consumer electronics firms, and key government officials like FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and even President Obama himself, have called for incentive auctions. In an April 12 speech at the NAB Show, Genachowski said: “I believe the single most important step that will drive our mobile economy and address consumer frustration is authorizing voluntary incentive auctions.” That’s a bold statement, particularly at an NAB confab, given that broadcasters have been most vocal about plans to reallocate their spectrum.
Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA, tells me the wireless industry endorses the call by President Obama, Chairman Genachowski and Congress to bring 500mHz to market in the next 10 years. Under this outline, he says, 300mHz of spectrum would come available to U.S. wireless carriers within the next five years. That spectrum would have to be below 3gHz, which he describes as the “sweet spot” for mobile usage.
The FCC and the NTIA have identified a number of bands from which this spectrum could be captured. That includes spectrum at 2gHz, which is currently known as the mobile satellite spectrum; reallocating and repackaging this broadcast spectrum, Guttman-McCabe says, could create 120mHz of open spectrum. The NTIA, meanwhile, is talking about repurposing spectrum in the 755-815mHz frequency that is currently used by the Department of Defense and other government agencies; Guttman-McCabe notes that 95mHz of spectrum in that band. He adds these choices make sense because such spectrum can easily be paired with existing Advanced Wireless Services, or AWS, spectrum used by the wireless service providers.
Not only do wireless network operators and mobile equipment companies stand to benefit from such spectrum allocation, so does the U.S. government and the country at large, says Guttman-McCabe. For every dollar spent on network infrastructure, he says, between $7 and $10 of wealth is created. And a white paper that the CTIA and the Consumer Electronics Association jointly presented to the FCC in February says reallocating and auctioning off 120mHz of what they call “underutilized broadband television spectrum” would produce more than $33 billion in net proceeds for the U.S. Treasury. This money, which the associations say represents a conservative estimate, could be used in part by the government to offset the deficit and fulfill the vision outlined in The National Broadband Plan. A share of the funds, he adds, also could go to the organizations that currently have rights to the spectrum.
However, some in the industry argue there’s a better way. Rather than reallocating spectrum and giving it to companies that are already rich with spectrum, those companies should develop the spectrum they already have on hand, while at the same time employing new technologies that enable them to get more out of the spectrum they do have. This is the argument made by Sprint in a technical analysis it submitted to the FCC arguing AT&T doesn’t need to acquire T-Mobile to solve its spectrum shortage. It’s also an argument made by some in the super Wi-Fi/white spaces camp, which are concerned that current unlicensed spectrum could be lost in the shuffle.
Brough Turner, founder and CTO at netBlazr Inc., writes: “For decades, more innovation and more products have been based on the few available slivers of unlicensed spectrum than on any other bands, even mobile. So the prospect of license-exempt access to TV white spaces has been hailed as a big step for U.S. innovation. Unfortunately, Congress has peculiar budgeting rules. If the Congressional Budget Office estimates a future spectrum auction could bring $X and Congress mandates the sale of that spectrum within the next four years, then that possible future money can be spent today. It’s free money immediately. If the auctions don’t happen or don’t bring in what was estimated, that’s a hole in a future budget – not our problem. Thus spectrum policy is caught in a bind with little hope of meaningful reform.”
The longer-term picture is better, however, he says, given new technology will help redefine what’s considered prime spectrum. “Until now, signals below 1gHz have carried farther, but that’s a technology limit not having anything to do with the physics of radio waves,” he writes. “Emerging technologies promise to make 3-10gHz spectrum as useful for many applications as spectrum below 1gHz (look up MIMO and beam steering for technology details). When technology eventually catches up with physics, 3-10gHz will become prime.”
And Carl Ford of Crossfire Media, which stages the 4GWE Conference and Super WiFi Summit, events to be co-located with ITEXPO next week in Austin, recently told me: “I believe the time is right for a rethink on spectrum strategies. While many carriers have a legitimate problem, there is a great opportunity to enable local community and corporate networks with spectrum as well.
“The bills enabling incentive auction strategies floating through Congress are in some ways like the stimulus package,” he adds. “They have frozen plans for development of products as companies wait to see if the White Space market is taken away.
“There are three problems that need to be addressed when discussing spectrum and the roll out of 4G,” he concludes. “The first is the most immediate for carriers, and that is gaining efficiency in supporting their subscribers. The second is the problem of wireless backhaul, which is in a state of transition as the old deployment of two T-1s to each base station are hardly adequate for today’s continual uptimes and the need to expand the deployments four fold. This is where Ethernet now dominates in wireless including its use over microwave. Wi-Fi and WiMAX. Finally, there is the reality that like the old phone network, customers are going to need a meet point for the internal wireless networks and could benefit from unlicensed strategies., which may include cloud delivery networks. All of these needs are present now and are impacting demand. Balancing these needs requires an objective view.”