The Truth about the Wireless Spectrum Crisis

I’ve been at CTIA for 19 years, which means that I’ve been responsible for our semi-annual survey since 1993. As those who have worked with me know, I’m a stickler for the facts and ensuring we’re 100% honest and on the “up and up” when it comes to how we convey the statistics.

So forgive me as this may be a heated blog post since some people have chosen to suggest that I am “hiding” information, which is categorically false and disingenuous. It’s also offensive.

CTIA’s interest is in fact-based analysis, not speculative and hyperbolic insinuations. The fact of the matter is that American’s data usage did increase, whether you look at twelve-month or six-month increments.

In the press release and on our website, we did change how we reported the MB of data, but only to make it parallel to how we reported the other traffic measures, not as six-month but as twelve-month volumes. In that, we followed the model of our April 2012 press release, where we reported annual (twelve-month) figures on traffic. As one Twitter follower requested last week, which we obliged, we added the data usage chart (page 8) to our top-line survey results.

There was no intent to conceal anything – CTIA’s complete survey results are made available twice a year in the form of CTIA’s Wireless Industry Indices report, which provides both six-month and twelve-month analysis of the complete range of CTIA’s survey results. Anyone is welcome to purchase a copy of the report from CTIA’s website, and many analysts do. It’s currently being finalized, but I expect to have the next edition of the Indices report completed by early November.

In fact, if you look at the year-to-year growth from June 2010’s six-month volume (161 billion MB) to June 2011 (341 billion MB) to June 2012 (633 billion MB), you see a usage curve that is shooting up dramatically. In fact, this pace would bear out Cisco’s projections.

More than that, dismissing “a so-called spectrum crunch” ignores not just a consensus in the U.S., it neglects the global nature of the analysis that calls for more commercial spectrum allocation around the world, to accommodate growing numbers of users and increasingly complex uses.

Curiously, some seem to attribute the “slowdown in traffic growth” to measures that consumers and carriers have alike taken to rationally distribute their traffic over licensed and unlicensed spectrum. How shocking! Both consumers and carriers are behaving rationally! That doesn’t mean that a crunch won’t occur. And a single slower period doesn’t necessarily model the future.

We think that conclusion is completely backwards. In spite of significant efforts by carriers and consumers to offload traffic to Wi-Fi, there was still an 86% increase from the first six months of 2011 to the first six months of 2012, an increase in traffic of almost 292 billion MB – more than the entire volume of data traffic in the first twelve months CTIA measured it in 2009 and 2010.


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