May 10, 2012, 11:34 AM — NEW ORLEANS - No one will ever say that America's wireless carriers are too proud to beg.
This year's CTIA wireless tradeshow in New Orleans seemed less like an industry gathering at times and more like an infomercial dedicated to forcing the government's hand to free up more spectrum. Start with CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent, who dedicated the vast majority of his introductory keynote address to discussing the challenges carriers will face if they don't get fresh spectrum to use within the next few years.
BACKGROUND: CTIA 2012 preview: Expect lots of spectrum talk
ANALYSIS: LTE spectrum: How much do the big carriers have?
"We simply need more spectrum," he said. "Getting more spectrum is the No.1 goal of CTIA."
Later that day, Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead took up the baton and similarly lobbied for the government to open up new airwaves for mobile data services.
"Innovation is at risk today due to the spectrum shortage that we face," he said. "If additional spectrum is not available in the near-term, mobile data will exceed capacity by 2015."
T-Mobile CEO Philipp Humm, meanwhile, said "the need for spectrum is urgent since it takes a while for new spectrum to be auctioned off and put to use." And Chris Pearson, the president of 4G Americas, said that "if we don't bring out more spectrum, there will be a hard stop sign" on progress in expanding wireless capacity in the United States.
OK, you get the picture: The carriers would really, really like to have some more spectrum. But what, exactly, is to be done about it?
The industry is expected to get about 120MHz of new spectrum from the newly authorized spectrum incentive auctions that will let broadcasters voluntarily put pieces of spectrum up for sale. But as many carriers have noted, such auctions inevitably take a long time to complete, so it's not clear if that additional spectrum from the broadcasters would provide much in the way of immediate relief. The industry is currently lobbying the government to sell off unused spectrum it has in the 2155MHz to 2180MHz band so it can be paired with spectrum in the 1755MHz to 1780MHz band that Congress recently authorized for wireless data use.