FCC Chair Addresses Looming Spectrum Crisis

By Tony Bradley, PC World |  Mobile & Wireless, FCC, mobile broadband

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke to the wireless industry at the International CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment conference this week in San Diego. During his presentation he described an impending 'spectrum crisis' and outlined a number of initiatives the FCC is working on to ensure that the spectrum can keep pace with the exploding demand for mobile broadband.

Genachowski noted that wireless demand has increased thirty-fold in the same timeframe that the FCC has allocated only three times the spectrum bandwidth. Doing the simple math it seems like it is fair to suggest we may soon face a spectrum crunch if something doesn't change in one or both of those trends.

One of the proposals he detailed is to offload some of the bandwidth demand to wireless networks when they're available. Genachowski claims that redistributing demand over wireless networks could cut wireless spectrum usage by consumers as much as 40%. That initiative would require some additional technologies or enhanced mobile devices capable of dynamically switching between cellular and wifi based on availability.

Genachowski also stated that the FCC is going to be more aggressive about reallocating unused or obsolete spectrum ranges like the recent switch of the 700MHz television spectrum for use by mobile providers. The need to squeeze out every last megabit of potential bandwidth will be even more critical as the mobile carriers fully implement 4G networks.

That brings us to the next proposal from Genachowski which is to explore more strategic placement of tower sites for 4G networks and to streamline the process of getting tower sites approved. He suggested a sort of 'shot clock' approach implementing a maximum timeframe for making a decision in order to prevent bottlenecks and keep the process flowing.

Advances in mobile device technology and the increasing number of mobile broadband users both put a growing strain on the available bandwidth. Mobile spectrum used to be dedicated strictly to voice calls, but now transmits streaming audio and video, high-resolution photographs, and exponentially more data than it did 5 or 10 years ago.

Creative ideas like those outlined by Genachowski or Google's proposal to use the white space of the TV frequency spectrum are steps in the right direction. There is only so much bandwidth, so the FCC and the wireless industry face a daunting task to allocate it as effectively as possible and develop new technologies that maximize the data that can be delivered over the bandwidth that is available.

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