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FCC: U.S. Faces Cellular Spectrum Gap

10/07/2009 01:23:44 PM Eastern

San
Diego - "The biggest threat to the future of mobile in America is
the looming spectrum crisis," the chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission
told the wireless industry during a trade show
here.

"While the
short-term outlook for 4G spectrum availability is adequate, the longer-term
picture is very different," chairman Julius Genachowski said today at the
International CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show. The lack of spectrum
is a long-term barrier to ubiquitous, affordable mobile broadband service, he
warned.

"We are
fast entering a world where mass-market mobile devices consume thousands of
megabytes each month," he said in a speech to attendees. "So we must ask: What
happens when every mobile user has an iPhone, a Palm Pre, a Blackberry Tour or
whatever the next device is? What happens when we quadruple the number of
subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or
netbooks?"

The
industry will need a lot more spectrum to keep up with demand, and although new
spectrum is coming on line in short order, it won't be adequate to meet
long-term demand, he said. "Counting last year's 700 MHz auction, the FCC in
recent years has authorized a three-fold increase in commercial spectrum. The
problem is many anticipate a 30-fold increase in wireless
traffic."

"One of
the FCC's highest priorities is to close the spectrum gap," he
said.

"The less
spectrum available for mobile broadband, the more service will cost and the
longer it will take to make 4G ubiquitous," he continued. "And that doesn't
serve our national needs." Carriers contend they each need anywhere from 40MHz
to 150MHz "to bring the benefits of broadband to American consumers," he added.

It will
take some time to find and allocate the needed spectrum, Genachowski warned. "As
this audience knows, it takes years to reallocate spectrum and put it to use. 
And there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart. But we have no choice. We
must identify spectrum that can best be reinvested in mobile
broadband."

In the
meantime, carriers and the FCC will have to manage spectrum better to ease
congestion, he said. "Smart spectrum policy will be part of the solution," he
said. Flexible FCC spectrum policies will be part of the mix, as will Wi-Fi,
which lets carriers "offload to fixed broadband as much as 40% of traffic in the
home, freeing up capacity of licensed spectrum." New technologies like smart
antennas and femtocells also hold promise, he said.

Also in
the short term, the FCC will speed up the process of approving new cell towers.
"We are ready to help you cut through red tape and overcome these hurdles," he
said. "I have consulted with my fellow commissioners, and in the near future we
are going to move forward with a shot-clock proposal designed to speed the
process, while taking into account the legitimate concerns of local authorities.

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