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Crunching the Numbers Behind the Spectrum Crunch

Posted October 21st, 2010 by Rob Alderfer

By Robert Alderfer and Tom Peters

The explosive growth of mobile communication is fueling our economy, creating jobs and spurring innovation at lighting fast speeds. But, it is also taxing our nation’s spectrum.

Spectrum is the finite national resource that makes all forms of wireless communication possible. Data usage over wireless networks is rapidly increasing as more consumers surf the web, check email, and watch video on the go, and more mobile device such as smart phones and tablets enter the market. This new demand for mobile spectrum is rapidly pushing us towards the point of running out of open spectrum.

The National Broadband Plan put numbers on the looming spectrum crunch, and made it clear that the time to act is now. The plan recommended that 500 megahertz of new spectrum be made available for broadband, including 300 megahertz in the next five years. The President has issued a call to action for wireless broadband. Clearly, new spectrum for wireless broadband is important to ensuring that we lead the world in mobile.

Today, the FCC is releasing a white paper entitled, “Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum.” This technical and economic forecast of mobile broadband market trends sets forth future spectrum needs in a concrete, data-driven fashion.

Today’s forecast demonstrates that the amount of mobile data demanded by American consumers is likely to exceed capacity of our wireless networks in the near-term, and that meeting this demand by making additional spectrum available is likely to create significant value for the economy. In addition, new mobile broadband spectrum will support innovation in other important areas – such as breakthrough tools to improve education through mobile online learning, enhancing health care through potentially life-saving remote diagnostics, and promoting energy efficiency by supporting the smart grid.

Some of the key findings in the white paper are:

  • Within the next five years, the spectrum deficit is likely to approach 300 megahertz.
  • This spectrum crunch will be driven by significant growth of mobile broadband traffic, on the order of 35 times recent levels.
  • Mobile broadband growth is likely to outpace the ability of technology and network improvements to keep up by an estimated factor of three.
  • Meeting this need may create $120 billion in spectrum value, with hundreds of billions more in total value to the economy as one considers broader macroeconomic effects.

The National Broadband Plan noted that making new spectrum available has historically taken between 6 and 13 years. Today’s forecast of the looming spectrum crunch makes clear the need for timely action to realize the wireless economy of the future.

So, take a look at the paper, and give us your feedback. What’s the best way for the nation to meet the growing need for mobile broadband spectrum?

(Cross-posted at Blogband)

Posted in Wireless National Broadband Plan
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