USA: FCC warns of spectrum threat

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US telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said last week the US industry faces an urgent task to make better use of and to secure more spectrum to cope with the surge in data traffic from smartphones and mobile broadband.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told the CTIA wireless industry trade convention in San Diego: “We’re entering a world where mass-market mobile devices consume thousands of megabytes each month.

“We must ask: what happens when every mobile user has an iPhone, a Palm Pre, a Blackberry Tour or whatever the next device is? What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or netbooks?

“The short answer: we will need a lot more spectrum. Spectrum is the oxygen of our mobile networks.

“While the short-term outlook for 4G spectrum availability is adequate, the longer-term picture is very different. In fact, I believe that the biggest threat to the future of mobile in America is the looming spectrum crisis.”

Genachowski applauded AT&T’s decision this month to allow internet calling on Apple iPhones, and also Verizon’s deal with Google to use its open-source Android platform.

But the big theme of his speech was spectrum. He said: “We must promote more efficient use of spectrum. Smart policy will be part of the solution.

“We will look at secondary markets, and spectrum flexibility policies. With Wi-Fi, we’ve seen the benefits of adding unlicensed spectrum to the national mix.

“Wi-Fi allows carriers to offload to fixed broadband as much as 40 per cent of traffic in the home, freeing up capacity of licensed spectrum.

“New technologies like smart antennas and femtocells hold promise as well, and we must explore ways to incentivise faster development of next generation technologies. It’s one of the reasons research and development in this area is so important. 

“Even with innovative spectrum policies and innovative new technologies, experts believe we are way too likely to be caught short. Which brings me to the second way to close the spectrum gap – reallocating spectrum currently being used for other purposes.

“The less spectrum available for mobile broadband, the more service will cost and the longer it will take to make 4G ubiquitous. And that doesn’t serve our national needs.

“Carriers are telling us that they need anywhere from 40MHz to 150MHz each to bring the benefits of broadband to American consumers. It takes years to reallocate spectrum and put it to use. And there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart. But we have no choice. We must identify spectrum that can best be reinvested in mobile broadband.

“That is something that we have to work on together, across industries, and in partnership with all stakeholders.  Unleashing spectrum for mobile broadband is the first part of our plan.”

For overview of US mobile market, see report on p24-25 in Mobile News issue 450 (October 19, 2009).

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