Jan. 24, 2010
There are now many people in the wireless industry that are very concerned that we will soon run out of wireless spectrum.
The faster that mobile users adopt new MIDs (mobile Internet devices) and services, the faster we will
run out of available frequencies in the wireless spectrum that can handle all of this increased traffic.
It is largely predicted by some experts that mobile services will continue to grow at anywhere from 15 to
20 percent per year for the next 5 years. That is simply a lot of growth and to some, maybe these people have
good reasons to be concerned.
Mobile communications, including 3G and now 4G information services, have seen remarkable expansion since 2004,
as millions of users buy smartphones and use them not only to replace traditional landline service but as a
principal device for Internet access. And this is happening a lot faster than what most people think.
The issue is that wireless spectrum is in fact very limited. We can always lay more fiber-optic cable and, in
the future, whatever technology exceeds the capacity of fiber to carry bits, but there is only so much usable
radio spectrum over which those same bits can be communicated wirelessly. And that is exactly where the whole
Several proposals to address this problem were discussed a few weeks ago at the annual CES Show. These
include reclaiming underutilized or unused spectrum as, for example, the FCC has done in the transition to
But some of the spectrum broadcasters were using for analog signals has already been auctioned off for new
wireless services, so there's really not that much left.
The White House and the FCC both believe that over the next five years, unless solutions are found, the demand
for wireless services will largely outstrip the very limited supply of wireless spectrum. From the standpoint
of the National Broadband Plan and the hopes for an information-based economic recovery, running out of spectrum
could prove catastrophic.
Wireless broadband is expected to play a major role in the push for universal access to broadband Internet
services, and this, as you may very well expect, will further compound the problem even more.
Today however, there is some talk of taking back more of the broadcasters' remaining allocation of spectrum,
and of reallocating spectrum currently held by the federal government and, in particular, the U.S. military.
In certain cases, spectrum trades among those who currently control them may lead to more efficient uses of
the most valuable frequencies.
Other solutions are of a more technical nature, including software and hardware that make it possible to
share wireless frequencies or dynamically reroute signals along unused frequencies. New technologies may also
make it possible to effectively use frequencies that today are not suitable for carrying radio signals.
Michael Calabrese, v.p. and director of the New America Foundation's Wireless Future Program, believes that
there is a great deal of unused and underutilized wireless spectrum that can be tapped in the future.
He pointed out that even in cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., less than twenty percent of the
available spectrum is actually being utilized most of the time. That's a big waste of spectrum right off the
The FCC is now calling for the development of a comprehensive spectrum map to identify the best opportunities
to free up underutilized or misallocated spectrum. The creation of an updated map is likely to be a major
recommendation of the National Broadband Plan.
Whatever is done, the time to act is now. The FCC understands that as much as the largest wireless carriers.
Source: The FCC.