The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is getting serious about setting rules for wireless broadband spectrum auctions. This week in Washington, D.C., it held a forum that included mobile device makers, wireless carriers and industry thought leaders to discuss band-plan designs — the size of the spectrum blocks it will auction and rules for use. A key theme driving the discussion was the huge increase in mobile broadband data consumption the industry is experiencing.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski kicked off the daylong meeting by saying, “The United States has regained global leadership in mobile.” He noted that, today, more than 80 percent of mobile devices use American operating systems while, four years ago, that figure was only 20 percent. The United States also has 69 percent of the 4G LTE service deployed and is leading the world in the use of unlicensed spectrum.
The result of this success is enormous increases in data consumption. The smartphone produces a data stream that’s “24 times more” than the phone you had before you upgraded, and the tablet is producing a data stream that’s “140 times more,” Genachowski said, adding “This is a surprise. It’s a wonderful surprise, but it’s a very real challenge.”
Brontobytes And Yottabytes
This surge in data consumption cannot be overstated. Marty Cooper, chairman and co-founder of Dyna LLC and a member of the FCC’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) (not to mention being the father of cellular telephony) talked about data consumption in terms of “brontobytes” and “yottabytes.”
“A brontobyte is a thousand yottabytes, and a yottabyte represents the data that is on the World Wide Web today,” he explained.
“The growth of data is exponential,” Cooper added. “We don’t need a 50-percent increase in spectrum or a doubling of spectrum; we need a 20-times or 40-times increase. That requirement is going to keep increasing, and the only way we’re going to keep up is through technology.”
Still, he was optimistic about finding a solution: “The technology exists, and the combination of the FCC’s vision and the industry’s efforts are going to solve our spectrum problem.”
Recommendations For The TAC
Cooper then outlined two recommendations for the FCC’s TAC:
>> Developing a national spectrum road map and
>> Measuring spectral efficiency.
“We desperately need a national spectrum technology road map,” Cooper said. “We have to start looking at what is going to happen over the coming years… so the FCC can create policies consistent with what’s happening in technology.”
Cooper predicted that, in 15 years, LTE will be obsolete and will be replaced with “dynamic spectrum access,” which he believes will increase spectral efficiency while driving down spectrum costs by orders of magnitude.
“It will be a challenge to do that when all the spectrum is assigned and productively creating stuff for us,” Cooper explained. “It’s important that we have a road map so that even today, 15 years before it will happen, the FCC can think about whether we should we set aside spectrum for experimental purposes or whether we should withhold some so when the time comes to implement advanced technologies, we’ll have spectrum available.”
(Editor’ note: Part 2 of our report on the FCC’s Band Plan Forum will detail the discussion of band-plan options the FCC is considering along with the perspectives of network operators and mobile-device manufacturers.)
— Jennifer Whalen