Spectrum Availability for Wireless: How Do We Compare?

In light of the tremendous attention on the U.S. wireless industry’s need for more spectrum, I thought it would be helpful and important to look at how our spectrum availability compares to other countries.

This “flag chart” is based solely on numbers and the facts. We looked at the U.S. versus 9 other countries (i.e. Japan, Germany, U.K., France, Italy, Canada, Spain, South Korea and Mexico) that we (the wireless industry) are frequently compared with.

While the geographic differences among the 10 countries are obvious, it’s still a differentiation that should be recognized. As we explain in our “Wireless in America” brochurePDF Document, the laws of physics govern wireless signals. When your wireless device is on, it searches for a signal from the closest antenna. Since wireless base stations are “smart,” they can sense when your signal gets stronger as you move toward a closer antenna. The base stations keep track of your device and hand off your signals as you move from one cell to another served by a different base station. Using smaller cells, which also means more towers or base stations, also enables your device to use less power and keep a clearer signal as you move. Some dead spots exist because a local government or landowner won’t allow placement of a wireless tower in a specific area or if the signals are disrupted by the topography (e.g. hills, trees, etc) of an area.

Yes, more towers help improve wireless signals. Our members are building towers as fast as they can once their tower siting requests are approved by local zoning authorities. At the same time, there are limits to how much we can split a cell site, which is why we need more spectrum to meet consumer demand.

As Chris pointed out in an April blog post, if our members could solve the spectrum crisis without spending billions of dollars, don’t you think they would?

Look at how the U.S. compares to these other 9 countries on number of wireless subscribers and usage. For number of subscribers, we are three times larger than the closest country (Japan). Our customers use more than double our closest competitor (Canada) and in some cases, such as Japan, five times more! The average revenue per minute is also the least expensive.

But when we look at the efficient use of spectrum by the ten countries, the U.S. wireless industry is the leader. Despite having 409.5 MHz of commercial wireless spectrum (which is being generous since that figure includes spectrum that’s not actually available for use right now), U.S. providers have more than two times the number of subscribers than our closest competitors (Mexico and Japan).

What is most disturbing though is that despite having more subscribers who use their devices more and the lowest revenue per minute than any of the nine other countries, the U.S. has the fewest megahertz of spectrum in the pipeline. Independent organizations and research firms such as The Yankee Group and Coda Research have projected that data traffic in 2014 will be, on average, 35 times the volume of traffic in 2009. Cisco estimated that wireless traffic in 2015 will be 56 times the volume of traffic in 2009. These experts predict that wireless data usage will continue to explode, yet we do not have enough spectrum to meet the upcoming demand.

There is no question that Americans enjoy the best wireless industry in the world. Whether you want to look at devices, apps or networks, our members make sure U.S. customers have the hottest, newest and coolest.

The U.S. wireless industry also benefits our nation and our economy. Economists estimate that wireless broadband investment will create as many as 205,000 jobs by 2015. For every $1 invested in wireless broadband, an additional $7-10 will be added to the GDP. What other industry can provide this kind of return?

Our members want to continue to meet Americans demands for wireless, which includes mobile Internet and improvements for other industries such as healthcare, education, transportation and energy. Our members want to continue to invest in devices, apps and networks. Our members want to remain the world’s wireless industry leader.

What we need to accomplish this is more spectrum.

About The Author


  1. avatar Paul Allen
  2. avatar Chris Ogden