Chairman Julius Genachowski says 300 additional megahertz of spectrum is needed by 2014 to keep pace with mobile usage.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

October 22, 2010

3 Min Read

Digging deep to find spectrum for the coming tidal wave of smartphone usage, the FCC is expected to take up the issue next month amid preliminary agreement from Democratic and Republican commissioners on the best approach to the looming spectrum crisis.

“Based on leading industry forecasts, we are likely to see a 35X increase in mobile broadband traffic over the next five years,” FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech Thursday, referring to new FCC research. “Even if spectrum and device efficiency doubles and the number of cell towers continues to grow at its current pace, we will need around 300 additional megahertz of spectrum by 2014.”

Genachowski said that the necessary new spectrum is valued at $120 billion. Where will the spectrum come from and how with the shortfall crisis be averted? Genachowski listed some of the recent measures taken or under way to deal with the shortage.

The FCC’s recent approval of using unlicensed “white spaces” spectrum will help, although details must still be worked out after databases for monitoring that spectrum are unveiled. About 25 megahertz from WCS (wireless communications services) has been freed up.

Efforts are under way to make another 90 megahertz of mobile satellite spectrum available. Femtocells, more efficient consumer devices and more efficient placement of cell towers would help, too. However, smartphones, with their voracious spectrum appetites, are proliferating rapidly. For instance, AT&T said Thursday that it signed up 5.2 million Apple iPhone subscribers. Many iPhone users are already experiencing a high level of dropped calls.

Genachowski is also promoting two-sided “incentive auctions,” in which TV broadcasters would voluntarily relinquish spectrum for auction with a portion of the proceeds being returned to the TV broadcasters.

“In the case of TV broadcasters, under our plan they could either continue to broadcast, share spectrum with one of more stations, return their spectrum or move to VHF,” Genachowski explained, adding that the issue will be examined at the November FCC meeting. The National Association of Broadcasters has said it supports the FCC’s search for more spectrum but hasn’t weighed in on the issue of “incentive auctions.”

Also scheduled for discussion at the FCC’s next meeting in late November are two other agenda items: how to speed the FCC’s experimental spectrum licensing procedures, including freeing researchers to accelerate innovative ways to use spectrum. A third item would seek to employ swaths of spectrum that aren’t being used to their full potential.

Republican Commissioner Robert M. McDowell also supported finding new spectrum to deal with the coming crunch. He emphasized the importance of creating a nationwide interoperable broadband network for first responders.

“I am also interested in learning more about interim technical solutions, including off-the-shelf products, which have the potential to assist public safety immediately with their critical work,” he said in a speech Thursday. “With the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks less than a year away, we should not waste any time.”


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