FCC Struggles to Meet Wireless Data Growth Demands
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By Sara Jameson
We recently reported on the explosive growth of IP based traffic across the internet in the next decade. It is projected that IP traffice will grow three-fold from 2010 to 2015, a compounded annual growth rate of 26%.
That traffic will reach 22.3 Exabytes per month in 2015, up from 7.0 Exabytes per month in 2010. A growing percentage of that traffic will be wireless based.
Because of this growth, smartphone companies and carriers are desperate for network capacity to provide new and improved services. Many of the carriers are struggling to find the additional network capacity to add to their networks.
Newly emerging technologies and services will only saturate data mobile networks even more in the future. These include data-intensive applications such as high quality video streaming required for medical, video conferencing and other enterprise purposes. These services are needed to expand our digital economy.
Overall data use is increasing rapidly as tablets, smartphones and applications squeeze more data through wireless networks.
In order to address the growth in demand, the Federal Communications Commission late last week opened up the light spectrum that sits between individual television channels numbered 1 through 51. Wireless communications in those "white spaces" will be permitted as of Jan. 26 in a testbed location and will be opened up nationally in the following months.
Broadcasting in the white spaces means that a company like Sprint could deliver signal between channels 8 and 9. That gives it just a little extra capacity boost to give its customers faster service.
The announcement by the FCC comes as wireless companies are facing a spectrum crunch crisis that has already begun to reshape the industry.
As smartphones and tablet sales have soared over the past several years, consumers' demand for data has grown exponentially. All that data is taking up a growing amount of spectrum, or light waves, and carriers are simply running out of airwaves to cram data into. The FCC has said that a current spectrum surplus of 225 MHz will become a deficit of 275 MHz by 2014.
That's why the FCC is committing to releasing 500 Megahertz of spectrum over the next decade. The tough part is yet to arrive - where will the extra network capacity come from?
Unused white space spectrum is part of the solution.
"Unused spectrum between TV stations represents a valuable opportunity for provision of broadband data services in our changing wireless landscape," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.
The wireless companies are trying to consolidate. AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile primarily for its spectrum holdings, a battle that it ultimately lost due to the government's antitrust concerns. Sprint has inked deals with 4G wholesale providers Clearwire and LightSquared, and Verizon has purchased $4 billion of dollars of cable providers' unused spectrum over the past month.