Some Clarity on the Spectrum Crunch

Tags: spectrum, wireless, companies, competition, mobile, demand, federal, various, government, what's

CNN Money began a weeklong series today about the reality and implications of the growing demand for wireless spectrum.

Congress took a big step toward addressing the issue last week when it authorized the Federal Communications Commission to begin re-allocating spectrum from various current licensees, including the U.S, government and private broadcasters, but that process could take years.

What's notable about the CNN Money article is that it is one of the few MSM pieces attempts to put spectrum policy in the context of the FCC's long history of attempting to manage competition. It also said that the spectrum shortage is at the root of slower data speeds, data throttling, and rising prices for wireless data plans, not service provider monopoly, inefficiency or greed, two common accusations heard in the policy debate,

Here's an excerpt:

How did we get here?

The number-one biggest driver is consumers' insatiable thirst for e-mail, apps and particularly video on their mobile devices -- anywhere, anytime. Global mobile data traffic is just about doubling every year, and will continue to do so through at least 2016, according to Cisco's Mobile Visual Networking Index, the industry's most comprehensive annual study.

The iPhone, for instance, uses 24 times as much spectrum as an old-fashioned cell phone, and the iPad uses 122 times as much, according to the Federal FCC. AT&T says wireless data traffic on its network has grown 20,000% since the iPhone debuted in 2007.

"We got into this principally because technology and demand exploded at a rate that nobody had anticipated," says Rory Altman, director of technology consultancy Altman & Vilandrie.

Another catalyst is the way the U.S. government allocated spectrum. The bands that wireless companies hold were broken up into small chunks across various markets, which was helpful in increasing competition in the 1990s.

But the patchwork nature has proven problematic for new technologies like high-speed 4G broadband. Bigger swaths of uninterrupted spectrum provide the larger amounts of bandwidth needed for delivering faster speeds.

Author David Goldman is generous. While the goal of carving up spectrum into slots was greater competition, there was no influx of "mom-and-pop" wireless companies that the FCC anticipated at the time. Faced with huge capital costs of buildout, smaller companies eventually sold their spectrum to larger players. The irony is while there is a competitive wireless market, the FCC's vision of eight to ten facilities-based carriers per market never materialized. Capital markets simply were not going to fund this big an overbuild.

What's worrisome is that FCC remains undeterred, and seems bent on doing the same thing in the next round of auctions--reserving chunks for "new technologies" withe serious performance issues (LightSquared anyone?) or new entrants who have little or no funding to build out regionally, let alone nationally. We've been down this road before. It doesn't work. Consumers will be served best if the spectrum can go to the companies that can 1) actually afford to pay for it; 2) know how to engineer wireless networks and 3) have the resources to get it into service quickest. And, yes, there are more than just two.

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Ann said... Rating: 0   Vote +   Vote -  

I recently prauhcsed and sadly returned one of these devices within a couple of days. I've been researching these for the better part of a month and had very high hopes for it. Think about this a credit card size portable wireless hot spot that you could carry in your pocket (watch out it gets hot) that you could connect your laptop, home computer, cellphone, iPAD, iPOD, etc to the internet anywhere you get a Verizon cell signal. Before I had a smartphone, i always had the need for a portable wireless signal for my laptop so I could search for restaurants, hotels, directions while i was out and about. How about not having to pay that hotel WiFi access fee anymore? It could also serve as your internet provider at home if you only occasionally used the internet. (For home use you could easily go over your 5GB max download ($60/mo) so this is more suited for on the go activities) Yes like I said some of us have smartphones that can do all the above but this device (in theory) could be used for all your WiFi devices mentioned above. I specifically got this to use with my iPhone to make and receive calls through Skype Mobile and access the internet on my phone, taking my phone bill from 150+ to ~$65 but it just didn't work as planned. Setup: Fairly simple, I am tech savvy but if you set up a wireless network in your home this will be no problem. Setup took about 5-10min. You access Verizon activation website, have your computer recognize it, enter some codes, reset and your ready to use. Initial Testing (Stationary): After activation I saw my phone was getting a signal from the device but a weak one which I attributed to being inside at work. I've received poor cell phone reception in the building before so this was not the MiFi's fault. Did a WiFi speed test on the phone and it was horrible, <100kbps download, <100kbps upload. I put the device in my pocket and went outside to try again. ~600kbps download, 300kbps upload, thats more like it. I tried a Skype test call and it was perfect, low cell phone bills here I come so I thought. Testing Pt2 (Mobile): So I tried this out while driving home from work and it failed miserably. Made a few calls, Skype test and real calls. Calls were very choppy, unusable. I ran another speed test as i was driving and would range from <50kbps to 200kbps. Very unstable signal. I don't know if that was due to trying to acquire a signal from a moving vehicle but hey, if a cell phone can do it then this should be able to. I tested this for about a 1/2hr in all different sections of town (Phoenix). My opinion is that this is not reliable enough to use while in a moving vehicle. Maybe if you pulled over and parked but thats not what I was looking for or expecting. Testing Pt3 (Home): Tried it at home and had similar results to when i was driving. Signal not strong enough to make phone calls. Speed ~100-150kbps. I can get cell phone calls fine in my home, so why can't MiFi get a decent signal? I switched my phone's signal to my home WiFi just to compare it and I got 3000 5000kbps speeds from my home wireless router. Night and Day difference. Final thoughts: I'm guessing maybe the antenna isn't as powerful as a cell phones' antenna. For what ever the reason I just don't think the technology is there yet for this, at least not over a 3G network. What this could be used for is the occasional need to access the internet, while not moving, read emails and surf non data intensive websites. Large email + attachments, videos, data heavy website I think would just take to long to load to use feasibly so I as well as others might skip on this for a while. Especially if you are going to be locked into a 2yr contract and paying up to $60 a month for this, at that price and commitment you should be getting at least low-mid level speeds that you could get with your home ISP. If you want to try this out also check out Virgin Mobile version of this, same exact device and manufacturer except there is no contract and plans range from $10-$60. Also check out Sprint's device, you might be lucky and live in a Sprint 4G network area. If Sprint had 4G network in Phoenix or if they have it in your part of the country then this might just work. Sprint has unlimited download limits over 4G network for $50 a month and it's supposedly 10x faster than a 3G network. So that in theory could provide my laptop, home computer and cellphone with all the WiFi I need, no need to worry about going over the limit or have any speed issues. I believe in this device but not until it goes on a 4G network. Make sure you try before you buy and are able to return it within a certain amount of time, you do not want to be locked into a contract or pay for a device that doesn't meet your expectations. Note: This device does get warm to the touch if active for a while.

8/22/2012 5:54:22 PM