Wireless Executives Seek More Spectrum To Connect Mobile Devices, Access Content

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Jan. 7 -- Liberating more spectrum for mobile broadband use is key to enabling the next generation of connected technologies, wireless executives said during an International CES panel discussion in Las Vegas.

Carriers have complained for years about the looming spectrum crunch that they will face as users increasingly access large data applications and video content over their mobile devices.

Much of the innovative technologies introduced at this year's International CES are focused on connecting household items, cars and watches to the Internet through wireless radio frequencies. Such a spectrum crunch is likely to grow as more connected devices are introduced into the marketplace.

“Spectrum is the life blood of an industry that is the oxygen of commerce,” John Donovan, AT&T Inc.’s executive vice president for technology and network operations, said Jan. 7. “Our hope is that we as a country can get enough spectrum available so we keep business models marching ahead.”

“We have to open up more spectrum,” said Paul Jacobs, the chairman and chief executive officer at Qualcomm Inc. “As we go to gigabit connectivity we will have to go to lower bands of spectrum.”

5 GHz Spectrum Also Key for Wi-Fi

Federal policy makers are increasingly looking to the 5 gigahertz (GHz) band as a fertile territory to expand Wi-Fi services and other unlicensed spectrum uses. Section 6406 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to examine the 5 GHz band to determine whether it is suitable for increased use by Wi-Fi systems.

“Spectrum is going to be a limitation for sure,” said Hans Vestberg, president and chief executive officer of the Ericsson Group. “You need to release more spectrum. When I think about the infrastructure of spectrum from a country point of view that infrastructure will be extremely important.”

Other solutions include technological innovations like small cells and further use of spectrum in lower and higher frequencies, Vestberg said. Some carriers are deploying small cell wireless systems which are distributed radio frequency networks with limited range. Donovan added that small cell technologies and spectrum pooling will help but likely won't be enough to satiate the growing desire for wireless connected devices.

Reallocating spectrum for mobile broadband use will be a tremendous focus of the FCC during the next few years. On Jan. 22, the commission will conduct its first spectrum auction since 2008 when it sells the lower (1915-1920 MHz) and upper (1995-2000 MHz) H block bands. The commission is also working to pair for commercial auction the particularly valuable spectrum in the 1755-1780 MHz band with the 2155-2180 MHz band by the third quarter of 2014. Meanwhile the FCC is drafting rules for a one-time incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum in the 600 MHz band to take place sometime in mid-2015.

Spectrum: Scarce Resource

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told reporters after the panel that the theme of the conference for her is the concept of everything mobile. “When people talk about mobile all the time and everywhere I think about spectrum,” she said. “Spectrum is a scarce resource. We need to find ways to repurpose more to fuel this revolution.”

Rosenworcel told reporters that technology companies and wireless carriers also have a role in using the spectrum they have more efficiently. “What we heard today from the panel is that small cells and using spectrum at higher frequencies are going to be part of this revolution. So in addition to more spectrum we are going to have to look at new technologies as well to make this all happen,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Las Vegas at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com