The battle cry of our wireless carriers to government regulators has been: Give us more spectrum or everyone's mobile bills will rise and service will fall! Not exactly "Banzai!" or "Geronimo!" or even "I'm going to count to three," but is any kind of threat even necessary?
Yes, spectrum -- which really just refers to a range of radio frequencies used by all wireless communication devices -- is commonly considered a finite resource that can only be divided up so much before those frequencies interfere with each other.
And, yes, "Spectrum is the 'life blood' of the wireless industry," as a T-Mobile statement once put it.
And, yes again, the proliferation of smartphones downloading expanding amounts of data does underscore the wireless industry's need to increase the amount of spectrum at hand.
But is it really the case, as AT&T
The inventor of the cell phone and a former vice president of Motorola, Martin Cooper, is one who thinks the wireless companies are overselling the threat. He told The New York Times in an interview, "Somehow in the last 100 years, every time there is a problem of getting more spectrum, there is a technology that comes along that solves that problem." Advanced antennas and routing traffic onto Wi-Fi networks could help the carriers serve 10 times more devices, he said.
So why are the carriers going on and on about a spectrum shortage? Because it's just easier, Cooper said.
Consultant David S. Isenberg put forward a darker explanation. He told the Times that the carriers have been slow in employing more modern and efficient technologies for a reason. "Their primary interest is not necessarily in making spectrum available, or in making wireless performance better," he said. "They want to make money."
David P. Reed, senior vice president at SAP Labs, echoed that view. He told the Times that the carriers aren't as interested in the new technologies as they are in just monopolizing as much spectrum as they can.
The Great Spectrum Gobble-Up
Just after Thanksgiving last year, Verizon
Lifeblood in the water
But all of the carriers, large and small, are getting ready for a potential feeding frenzy when the FCC auctions off some spectrum that had formerly been put aside for broadcast television use. Congress passed legislation this past February that would free up those frequencies, but the wireless carriers have been positioning for months to make sure they get their fair (as viewed by each company) share.
AT&T and Verizon have both been worried that the FCC will give preferential treatment to the smaller carriers in the upcoming spectrum auctions. AT&T told the New York Post last January: "Our position is not that we are against the FCC overseeing spectrum auctions. We simply are asking why the FCC wants the Congress to strip language from a bill that says the FCC can't exclude qualified bidders."
Verizon said it was concerned with the auctions being "open and not tied down by conditions that might limit players from bidding on [the] spectrum."
The carriers that AT&T and Verizon are afraid the FCC may give preferential treatment to would be Sprint Nextel
No more whining
The solution to all this could be as simple as Martin Cooper's suggestion that instead of acquiescing to the carriers' demands for more spectrum, just require them to upgrade their technical capabilities. "Every two and a half years, every spectrum crisis has gotten solved," he said, "and that's going to keep happening."
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