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Issue Brief

Mobile Data Demand and the Need for Increased Spectrum Access

October 2009 |
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There is no doubt that consumer demand for mobile data applications is exploding worldwide. As Smartphones with PC capabilities and broadband aircards gain access to faster 4G networks beginning next year, total wireless data consumption will increase geometrically. Cisco’s annual projection of global Internet traffic predicts a 129% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for mobile data over the next five years in North America (through 2013).

Meeting consumer demand for mobile data will require some combination of four strategies:

  • Increased spectrum access
  • Smaller cell sizes
  • More efficient wireless architectures/technologies
  • More effective use of wired backhaul

CTIA, the wireless industry association, recently called on the federal government to reallocate an additional 800 MHz of spectrum by 2015 from current uses to exclusive licensing for wireless broad-band services. This 800 MHz is based entirely on a 2006 spectrum requirements study by the ITU. Based on an elaborate modeling of emerging cellular technologies (such as LTE and WiMAX) and cell densities, ITU concluded that advanced market economies would require total allocations of roughly 1,300 MHz by 2015 and 1,720 by 2020. Companies have access to just over 500 MHz to-day.

While there is no question that the existing commercial wireless architecture – based on exclusive licensing, tower-based hub/spoke channelization, centralized infrastructure and metered billing – will need substantially more exclusive-use spectrum in the short-run to meet mobile data demand, it should be equally clear that this model is not sustainable longer term. Therefore, in addition to reallocating bands cleared completely for exclusive licensing, promoting pervasive connectivity, innovation and consumer welfare suggests that any Administration initiative also lay the groundwork for complementary spectrum access models that are sustainable and pro-consumer.

Therefore, in addition to reallocating bands cleared completely for exclusive licensing, promoting pervasive connectivity, innovation and consumer welfare suggests that any Administration initiative also lay the groundwork for complementary spectrum access models that are sustainable and pro-consumer. Policy should facilitate hybrid networks managed equally from the edge, by consumer preference. An insight that can be derived from the trends noted above is that the quantity of available spectrum is not by itself the most important factor in meeting projected mobile data demand. Most important is to shrink the effective size of the cell to the level of the home, business – and even to the individual. In other words, most of each user’s data consumption should not flow through the wireless carrier’s infrastructure (towers, backhaul), but should flow over short distances directly into non-carrier wireline backhaul.

As high-capacity wireline connections and the consumer’s choice of hybrid mobile devices becomes more prevalent, it is neither cost-effective nor pro-consumer to encourage a model whereby most data would be transported over expensive Licensed airwaves when it could go short distances over Unlicensed airwaves and consumer-owned backhaul. The commercial wireless provider, relying on limited exclusively licensed spectrum, should serve increasingly as a “quality of service provider,” since consumers will happily pay for remote coverage, or for the transport of latency-sensitive appli-cations. Consumer welfare and economic efficiency will be enhanced by cognitive and cooperative devices that default where feasible to a local, very low-power network transmitting on unlicensed or other shared spectrum. Indeed, as more shared spectrum enables more cognitive and cooperative devices, mobile consumers can more readily hop to wireline transit on a p2p basis even when away from open WiFi ports.

To read the full paper, download the PDF below.

In addition to reallocating bands cleared completely for exclusive licensing, promoting pervasive connectivity, innovation and consumer welfare suggests that any Administration initiative also lay the groundwork for complementary spectrum access models that are sustainable and pro-consumer. Policy should facilitate hybrid networks managed equally from the edge, by consumer preference.

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