Your phone carrier: out of space, getting restless

A surprisingly good primer on the spectrum crunch reveals some issues with smartphone math.

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The FCC view of the wireless future, as charted by CNN

Chart via CNN.

I don’t normally expect to find calm, reasonable explanations of modern technology issues in cable news outlets. So, seeing the headline “Why your cell phone bill is going up,” I wondered what was in store: aggrieved victims of overage charges, perhaps, or maybe a quick jab at corporate profits. But despite even the “airwaves are full” headline, CNN’s three-part series on the “spectrum crunch” is actually a pretty good starting point for understanding a lot of seemingly tinfoil-hat-level machinations of the big four U.S. carriers.

Here’s the core of the matter, as CNN puts it in part one:

The problem, known as the "spectrum crunch," threatens to increase the number of dropped calls, slow down data speeds and raise customers' prices. It will also whittle down the nation's number of wireless carriers and create a deeper financial divide between those companies that have capacity and those that don't.

When cellphones were becoming a mainstream consumer offering, the FCC offered up relatively narrow chunks of bandwidth across different markets, hoping to bolster competition. There was competition, but once phones advanced from calls and tiny text messages to, basically, millions of computers constantly looking for connections, those narrow bandwidth chunks aren’t cutting it anymore.

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