While it's easy to put the blame regarding
slower than expected progress in the realm of wireless communications on the
telecoms, they aren't the only problem. Next generation 4G networks are
incredibly spectrum hungry, and even the biggest players like Verizon and
AT&T are racing
to find spectrum.
As a result, their 4G efforts (LTE, WiMAX) are
falling far short of promised speeds -- or worse yet, some are giving up and billing
even slower HSPA+ networks as "4G" (testing
has shown HSPA+ to be nearly twice as slow as current LTE,
despite T-Mobile's claims and "demos").
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the
organization tasked with regulating our nation's communications under the federal Communications Act of 1934 (amended by Telecom Act of 1996) [PDF], is
struggling to dig up spectrum to sell to the big carriers -- Verizon, AT&T,
Sprint, and T-Mobile -- in order to allow them to better deliver on the their smartphone
data speed promises.
AT&T Inc Chief Executive Randall Stephenson in a Reuters report says that
is vitally needed as where 10 MHz of spectrum would have lasted four to five
years in the old days, "Today, we'll burn through that in about 10
The great hope for grabbing more spectrum is to
repurpose a couple hundred MHz of unused spectrum and gain another 120 MHz of
spectrum by approach television providers like ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox and
offering to auction their unused spectrum.
Under the scheme, the networks would pocket part
of the proceeds and the government would keep a chunk too. And the
telecoms would be the biggest winners, as they could finally give customers
faster 3G and 4G data speeds.
However, the proposal for these "voluntary
incentive auctions" must navigate its way through a partisan Congress,
which is divided with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives [homepage] and a Democratic-controlled
Senate [homepage]. Still, there is hope
that both sides of the political spectrum will see the value of this
proposal. States FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, an appointee of U.S.
President Barack Obama, "Every month that goes by without tackling this is
a month that hurts us from a global competitiveness perspective."
hesitance, the National Association of Broadcasters has
endorsed the idea, assuming the auction is "truly voluntary".
Even if the auction succeeds, it does not solve
the underlying fact that we are running out of usable spectrum. That
means that dreams of wirelessly
connected vehicles, appliances, and more may see slower adoption. It
also prohibitively raises the barrier to entry into the U.S. telecommunications
market, virtually guaranteeing it to be an oligarchy composed of the big four
-- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile (ranked from first to fourth,
respectively, in number of subscribers). The only solutions here will be
to find new ways to use spectrum more efficiently and perhaps find ways to make
the use of previously "junk" spectrum financially and technically