Will the Good News or Bad News on Spectrum Win?

Carl Weinschenk

The operative assumption for the past few years went something like this: The explosion of mobile devices and networks and the great growth of the nature of the data that is to be trafficked — from a focus on emails to videos, etc. — means that bandwidth will become an even scarcer commodity. Eventually, the ability to introduce services and deliver it to the billions of people clamoring for connectivity would suffer.

Here’s the bad news: The doomsayers may be right and all that still may happen. Indeed, VentureBeat reports on what it calls a “massive” report by Ericsson that shows how radically demand is escalating:

With 6.4 billion global cellular subscriptions and a world population just shy of seven billion, it would seem that almost everyone has a mobile phone or other mobile device connected to the internet. However, Ericsson, says, those 6.4 billion subscriptions are spread over only 4.3 billion people, meaning that many people have more than one plan … for example, a phone and a tablet, both with a cellular connection.

The story goes along in the vein: more and more data, by orders of magnitude. The bottom line, then, is that there is little hope for the long term as wave after wave of demand simply will exhaust the meager remaining reserves.

Any post that uses the phrase “Here’s the bad news” must, of course, offer good news later. And here it is: David Talbot of MIT Technology Review suggests that the great changes in wireless technology — some from more efficient use of existing techniques and some from things that currently are on the drawing board — means that we should be fine for decades to come.

Talbot runs through many, if not all, of the ways in which the soup either will be added to or stretched thinner. He discusses the fact that many companies are holding spectrum that they haven’t used yet, that cellular offload onto wireless creates efficiencies and that coherent radio and white space techniques are on the horizon.

These approaches are beginning to roll out. For instance, AT&T said at the beginning of the month that it will make wide use of small cell technology and last week UK regulator Ofcom made announcements aimed at making white space technology deployable by the end of next year. The progress being made by the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and voice over LTE (VoLTE) also have positive implications, since the development of these technologies gradually means the end of 3G and the freeing up of that spectrum.

Folks marvel at science reports — and sci-fi movies — that use the premise that we use only a small portion of our brains. That sense of huge untapped potential comes to mind as Talbot ticks off the ways in which current capacity can be expanded. At the same time, the increase in demand will continue to accelerate. The question is simple: Will the good news or bad news win out in the long run?



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