Feature Article

June 18, 2012

With Wireless Data Traffic Surging, U.S. May Soon Run Out of Spectrum

With the surging use of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, the radio spectrum allocated for mobile broadband will soon be depleted.

As a result, the U.S. could be approaching data crunch as early as next year, which could get worse by 2014. The report indicates that if no action is taken, smartphone users could see slowdowns, dropped connections and higher prices.

Consequently, some carriers are already preparing by imposing data caps or "throttling" speeds for smartphone users. The carriers fear that not much will be left in a year or two because much of the spectrum has been allocated to broadcast television and radio, and other portions are dedicated for air traffic control, military communications, police and emergency use.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), wireless data traffic is expected roughly double in each year through 2015. This will mean a "deficit" of 90 MHz next year and 275 MHz in 2014, the FCC stated.

"We are running out of wireless data spectrum. What does that mean? Slowdowns and outages when trying to use one of the many apps like watching television, movies, using GPS and navigation," the report quoted telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, who further added that Apple ignited much of the growth with the iPhone and iPad, and now Android devices are gobbling up data use as well.

“Now wireless data usage through hundreds of thousands of Apps is squeezing the networks dry," he said.

The report also stated Julie Kearney of the Consumer Electronics Association, who thinks data crunch could have adverse economic consequences, hurting consumers as well as wireless gadget makers and sellers. "Ultimately, the consumer will suffer," she noted. "They realize we can build these products, but if they don't have the spectrum, they will stop using or buying them, and then who will make them?”

In fact, the report suggests that the impending crunch is setting up a mad scramble among wireless carriers, the broadcast industry, government agencies and others to reallocate some of the spectrum, which has a limited capacity of around 2,500 MHz.

The Obama administration unveiled a plan in 2011 to free up some 500 MHz of spectrum over the next decade, through voluntary auctions and streamlined government communications. But only a fraction of that is likely to be available within the next year or two.

Edited by Braden Becker

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