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Free the Spectrum Now
The wireless industry takes the U.S. government to task
For the rest of the May 2002 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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At this year's Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association's (CTIA) annual trade show there was one issue as hot as the 85-degree Orlando sun shining outside the Orange County Convention Center: spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is the highway on which wireless voice and data travel. The wireless industry is dependent on the allocation of spectrum to deliver its services. Currently the United States has only 189 MHz available. This is about half of the spectrum available in Germany, Japan, and the U.K, which each have more than 300 MHz of spectrum currently available for wireless (305 MHz, 300.1 MHZ, and 346.6 MHz, respectively). However, the U.S. has a significantly larger population. And the CTIA expects cell phone penetration in the U.S. to reach 50 percent later this year. During the opening keynote CTIA President and Chief Executive Tom Wheeler delivered a message to the U.S. government: "Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem" in advancing the wireless industry. He cited recent mandates to illustrate the government-imposed challenges the industry faces. "We must break the hold nineteenth century regulation has on twenty-first century technology," he said. He specifically cited local-number portability as one burdensome regulation, originally designed to bring competition to the monopoly wireline arena, but now being applied to the highly competitive wireless industry. "Wireless is the poster child for competition in the telecommunications industry, so why is government imposing monopoly rules?" he said. Wheeler also focused on the need for additional spectrum for advanced wireless services. Since 1993 the number of wireless users has grown 897 percent in the U.S., but the government has made only 278 percent more spectrum available in the same period. However, the amount of spectrum was not the only important issue. "It has to be the right spectrum to harmonize internationally," Wheeler said, citing the importance of global compatibility. Germany, Japan, and the U.K have designated spectrum specifically for use with advance wireless services; the U.S. has not. Consequently, Japanese companies plan to leverage Japan's large amount of available spectrum to target European and American markets.
Nancy Victory, assistant secretary for communications and administrator of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration joined Wheeler on stage to comment on the issue. Showing no mercy, Wheeler asked when the industry can expect the government to release the 120 MHz of spectrum the industry has asked for. "We're still considering how fast we can clear it, how it will be shared, and what would be the cost," Victory said. She implied, however, that it was still uncertain whether any spectrum would be released, though she did seem hesitantly positive that at least some would. The government is considering reassigning spectrum currently used in both government and commercial sectors. After questioning Victory further on the spectrum issue, Wheeler relented and complemented Victory on one recent industry win: getting the cap on spectrum lifted by the Federal Communications Commission in January 2003. This is significant for the industry, because France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K have no cap on the amount of spectrum a company can use. The U.S. government, however, currently limits that amount to 45 MHz, which affects the quality of voice service and limits the ability to offer wireless Internet services. Wheeler closed with a call to action for the government. In a thunderous voice he said: "Free the spectrum now." Spectrum Woes
  • Since 1993 the number of wireless users has grown 897 percent in the U.S., but only 278 percent more spectrum has been made available by the government in the same period.
  • Germany, Japan, and the U.K each have more than 300 MHz of spectrum currently available for wireless (305 MHz, 300.1 MHz, and 346.6 MHz, respectively); the U.S., with its larger population, has only 189 MHz available.
  • France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K have no cap on the amount of spectrum a company can use. The U.S. limits that amount to 45 MHz , which affects the quality of voice service and limits the ability to offer wireless Internet services. However, the FCC plans to lift the cap in January 2003.
  • The U.S. has not designated spectrum specifically for use with advance wireless services, but Germany, Japan, and the U.K have. In fact, Japanese companies plan to leverage Japan's large amount of available spectrum to target European and American markets.
Source: Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association
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