FCC Expects 'Spectrum Deficit' by 2014

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Growth in wireless data demand will lead to a "spectrum deficit" of 275MHz if no new spectrum is released by 2014, the Federal Communications Commission projected Thursday.

In a new FCC technical paper, titled "Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum," the FCC projects that growth in mobile data services will require around 822MHz of total spectrum, or 275MHz more than the 547MHz of spectrum available today for dual use in voice and data services. The United States will have all of the wireless spectrum it needs to meet mobile data demand until 2013, the FCC projects, as mobile data demand is not expected to cross the 547MHz threshold until then.

National broadband plan: Where does the spectrum come from?

To put this into perspective, the United States today only requires around 225MHz of spectrum to meet all its mobile data needs, or less than one-third of what it will need in just four years. The FCC says that if no new spectrum is freed up for use, carriers will have to meet mobile data demand by building out additional cell-sites, which the report estimates will cost the industry about $120 billion to build over the next four years. And although the advent of 4G technologies such as LTE will more than double overall spectrum efficiency, this alone won't be enough to meet the enormous coming growth in mobile broadband consumption.

To remedy this, the report recommends that the FCC free up at least 300MHz of new spectrum for voice and data dual use by 2014, as well as an additional 150MHz that could be used solely for wireless broadband. This is in line with the recommendations that the FCC free up a total of 500MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband in the National Broadband Plan released earlier this year. In that report, the FCC said it would look at freeing up 120MHz of spectrum currently being used for broadcast television, 90MHz of spectrum used by mobile satellite services and 60MHz of spectrum known as the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum band.

Several research firms and companies have projected an explosion in wireless broadband consumption over the next few years, fueled mainly by 4G mobile data technologies such as WiMAX and LTE that will allow for the streaming of high-definition video over the air. IT research firm Ovum, for instance, has projected that the number of mobile users subscribing to either 3G or 4G services will grow to 2 billion worldwide by 2014. Goldman Sachs' investment research arm, meanwhile, projected last month that wireless data revenues would surge by more than six-fold by the year 2020 and that wireless data revenues would nearly triple over the next two years alone.

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This story, "FCC Expects 'Spectrum Deficit' by 2014" was originally published by Network World.

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