It is No Trick – There is a Spectrum Crisis

Yes, I’m the cybersecurity guy, but I’m also an engineer by trade, a Bell Labs alumnus and a patent holder who has worked on wireless for most of my career. Based on my education, training and technical experience in designing and deploying wireless technology for more than 25 years, and with the understanding of how the networks work and the anticipated wireless usage, I know more spectrum is needed.

If we do not meet the wireless industry’s need for spectrum, there will be a crisis in relatively short order.

Even though I’m the “newest” kid to the CTIA block, I find it baffling that some continue to question the spectrum crisis, especially as we see the penetration of smartphones and tablets escalate, the advent of machine-to-machine, not to mention cybersecurity solutions for consumers. How can one ignore the fact that smartphones have eclipsed personal computers?

There is no question that Americans are using their wireless devices more – from apps to over-the-top providers to surfing the Internet – all of this takes more spectrum! Other parts of the world such as Europe and Hong Kong – and organizations like the ITU (that called for 1,300 MHz by 2015 –  meaning the U.S. would need an additional 800 MHz of spectrum to meet the demand) – recognize the fact that more spectrum is needed as the global population of over 6 billion wireless users continues to consume more and more spectrum resources. Today, the U.S. leads the world in the deployment of 4G/LTE. Without more spectrum that leadership is put at risk, as are the economic and social benefits that we all enjoy from the wireless industry. Here are a few of those expert organizations’ projections:

Then, when you take into consideration that it’s not just consumers using their devices, it’s also about other industries benefiting such as health care, education, transportation and utilities, it’s no wonder projections show a continued uphill climb. Imagine the bandwidth requirements to transmit healthcare images, for a “connected-classroom” in a rural town or urban traffic management systems – these all require more spectrum on top of what is already inadequate to keep pace with the connected society of the 21st Century.

But what about Wi-Fi? Yes, consumers are increasingly using Wi-Fi to offload their usage from carrier networks, which is extremely helpful in the spectrum crisis. Yet as Cisco’s data shows, which adjusts for consumers offloading to Wi-Fi, there must be more spectrum to meet demands from consumers and businesses across the country. In the aggregate, consumer demand for wireless bandwidth continues to grow faster than what Wi-Fi and carriers’ networks are adding. Wireless penetration is more than 100% of the population – meaning many of us have more than one wireless device – and this trend continues to grow in the US, as more people transition from feature phones to smartphones and/or tablets that consume more capacity and spectrum bandwidth.

But what about femtocell and other smaller spectrum splitting technology? Yes, another piece of the puzzle, but one can only slice spectrum so much before it becomes unusable. As wireless network planning and design engineers know, cell splitting has a practical limit, as does the deployment of femtocells when it comes to adding spectrum capacity. In most urban centers like New York, Chicago or L.A. the practical limit is looming very quickly.

But what about [fill in the blank technology]? Yes, there are a lot of entities who claim to be able to “solve” the looming spectrum crisis with some type of technology. However, it’s important to remember the following:

  1. The wireless carriers are a business. If there was a practical technology that would solve the spectrum crisis without making them pay BILLIONS at auction, trust me, they would absolutely use it. At the end of the day though, there aren’t enough band aid solutions; there has to be a big investment in spectrum at auction.
  2. Currently, there is NO practical technology that could handle the significant anticipated usage growth, except more spectrum. Again, there are small incremental changes that can be implemented (and are being used on networks across the country), but nothing replaces more spectrum.

Trust me, the carriers are deploying and using every single technology and “trick” they can to try to solve the looming spectrum crisis in the near-term, but nothing will solve the problem like more spectrum.

Claude Shannon proved that there are practical limits to how much bandwidth capacity is available from a limited amount of spectrum. One has to look no further than the father of information theory to realize that the solution is more spectrum.


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  1. avatar Tim Farrar
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