The Need For Spectrum

Growth of Wireless Broadband and the Spectrum Crunch

Spectrum is the fuel for our nation's wireless broadband marketplace.  The wide spread adoption of smartphones, laptops, and tablets running advanced applications has dramatically increased the need for additional spectrum to be allocated to commercial wireless broadband use.  Consumers are adopting handheld and portable devices at a remarkable pace driven by the desire for video on-the-go and other rich media applications all of which need substantial spectrum to work.  Moreover, the rollout of 4G wireless broadband networks which will increase consumers throughput speed for these rich media applications will create even more demand for commercial spectrum.

Our nation's spectrum crunch is real and significant.

  • The FCC estimates that our nation will need an additional 275 MHz of spectrum in five years to meet mobile data demand from tablets, smartphones, laptops, and other innovative wireless broadband devices.
  • Cisco reported that tablets, the fastest-growing category of devices, can generate 80 times more data traffic than a basic feature phone. Smartphones generate 22 times more traffic today than a basic handset, while laptops generate 208 times more data than a basic handset.

The volume of mobile data traffic from tablets, smartphones, laptops, and other wireless broadband devices is growing at an exorbitant rate.

  • Cisco estimates the volume of US mobile data will grow 21-fold between 2010 and 2015, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 83%.
  • By 2015, US mobile data traffic will reach 914.6 million gigabits (or nearly an exabyte) per month equivalent to sending 229 million DVDs over the Internet each month.
  • Data traffic on AT&T's mobile network is up 5,000% over the past three years, a compound annual growth rate of 268%.

The number of wireless broadband subscribers and smartphone devices is growing.

  • There are nearly 293 million wireless subscribers in the United States, which represents a penetration rate of 93%. 
  • The number of smartphones in use will grow 2-fold between 2010 and 2015, reaching 210 million.

The time to identify and auction spectrum to meet our nation’s future wireless broadband needs is now.  Currently, there is insufficient spectrum in the pipeline for auction to meet commercial wireless broadband demand.  Once spectrum is identified it will take several years to prepare for and conduct an auction, which must occur before a carrier can build out its network to add capacity.  We urge Congress to act quickly to ensure our nation’s mobile future.

Voluntary “incentive spectrum auctions” are the best means to repurpose spectrum to meet our nation’s demand for more spectrum for mobile broadband.  Existing licensees (e.g., TV broadcasters and mobile satellite operators) could voluntarily relinquish their spectrum in return for a portion of the auction proceeds.  Voluntary incentive auctions are a critical tool to fairly and efficiently repurposing spectrum to the uses that consumers and businesses value most for the future.