Aug 27 2012
By Fred Hoot - Google+
For years we have heard the wireless companies complaining about the shortage of spectrum. All the big ones: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have been the most vocal.
When AT&T applied to purchase T-Mobile and use their licenses and infrastructure to jumpstart their 4G LTE network, all the other companies complained. Eventually the DOJ became involved and denied the purchase.
Verizon Wireless tried several deals that fell on deaf ears at the FCC. Their latest offer to buy unused licensing from a group of speculators raised the hackles of the competing wireless vendors and again the shortage issue came to the forefront. Well Verizon’s latest license purchase was approved. Did this create another spectrum shortage for other wireless companies? I think not.
Shortage is Usable Availability
For all practical purposes all of the radio spectrum within the United States is owned by the federal government. They regulate all of the radio spectrum and put up for auction licenses for specific radio spectrum blocks in each geographical area.
Large blocks of spectrum suitable for wireless use are either unused or underutilized and currently reserved for government use. If the government decides not to license any of that radio spectrum, there will be a spectrum shortage ten or twenty years down the road.
On June 28, 2010 President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum titled Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution. He basically ordered NTIA (the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) to work with the FCC and release 500 MHz of spectrum, some of which is currently reserved by the government. This spectrum, which will be freed up in the next ten years, will ensure there will be no shortage of wireless spectrum in the long-term future.
So you can see that the government could decide whether or not there is a wireless spectrum shortage. By making sure additional spectrum will be freed up, the needs of the wireless high-speed Internet will be met for the foreseeable future.
Repurposing Spectrum Increases Availability
The FCC has approved the auction of the unused spectrum that lies between the Television channels. This space was reserved to prevent the old analog television signals from interfering with each other.
Since the changeover to digital television in 2009, this section of the radio spectrum is available for use. In fact there is already at least one company whose equipment for white space has been approved by the FCC.
Even more spectrum is available in a repurposing move by the FCC. They are asking for volunteer television stations to move from their current frequency assignment to a different part of the spectrum.
TV stations that are using UHF channels from 31 through 51 can volunteer to migrate to another channel outside this range. When the FCC auctions off their bandwidth, the amount collected will be split between the TV station and the FCC. This will add an additional 120 MHz worth of spectrum to be used for wireless high-speed Internet.
There may be a downside to this. NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters) is estimating that 73 TV stations in the top ten television markets will have to close their doors if everyone is removed from this segment of spectrum.
Another innovative idea to increase the wireless high-speed Internet spectrum was to change the permissions of use for the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) spectrum. The AWS is used for wireless messaging, video and a few other services. The FCC had been petitioned to allow the use of the AWS spectrum for wireless broadband use, specifically 4G-LTE.
In December of last year, Verizon Wireless applied for approval from the FCC to purchase 122 AWS licenses from SpectrumCo for $3.6 billion. Last Thursday, August 23rd, the FCC finally approved the sale. SpectrumCo was created by several other companies to bid on FCC spectrum licensing.
Interestingly, not one of those licenses that was successfully won by SpectrumCo was used for wireless. It looks like SpectrumCo bought up the licenses just on speculation to make money. They did achieve a healthy undisclosed profit.
The iDEN network is being converted for use by 3G and 4G LTE wireless services. The iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) is primarily used for PTT (Push To Talk) services. Sprint applied for and received permission to convert the iDEN usage to 4G LTE services. Over the next few years, Sprint will phase out the PTT service on the iDEN network and move those services to another part of the radio spectrum.
No Real Shortage of Radio Spectrum
As you can see, there is no real shortage of radio spectrum for the foreseeable future. The government has loads of spectrum suitable for wireless Internet and broadband usage. All it takes is for them to auction some excess spectrum. Even more expansive segments can be had by migrating some government radio services in sparsely populated spectrum to other government spectrum reserved by the government.
The repurposing of other spectrum, as requested by wireless companies, further frees up more bandwidth for wireless data. We have plenty of spectrum for the foreseeable future.
How many more segments of unused spectrum is being held by the wireless providers or even holding companies? What new technologies will be developed to better use the existing spectrum by allowing more bandwidth in the same segment? We will surely see many advances in this area.
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