Broadband Report: Spectrum Shortage "No Myth"

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor — May 15, 2012

4G Americas' new white paper New Wireless Broadband Applications and Devices: Understanding the Impact on Networks addresses the need to mitigate increasing wireless network congestion due to the effects of new applications, devices and services.

"With limited amounts of spectrum and growing mobile broadband data demands, today's networks are increasingly becoming stressed to capacity," explains Chris Pearson, president of 4G Americas. "More spectrum is the ultimate answer for network congestion as growth in mobile broadband will come to a hard stop without it. There are, however, some short-term and long-term solutions to help address signaling and network data traffic congestion that may be addressed by application developers, mobile OS vendors and end users, which are carefully outlined in this report."

Network capacity overload and the potential crisis for mobile communications are guided by two primary factors: limited spectrum and growing data demands. Numerous forecasts indicate exponential data traffic growth as mobile data usage has more than doubled each of the last five years.

Leading mobile industry strategist Chetan Sharma cites several examples:
Smartphone penetration in the U.S. is the highest among large western markets, particularly with high-end super phones (Android and iOS)
The traffic in the U.S. market is expected to grow at least 15-20 times by 2015
Some of the major markets in the U.S. are already under severe stress and operators are optimizing for spectrum rather than for growth

According to multiple reports, more than 75% of wireless devices are currently broadband capable in the U.S., while the U.S. has less spectrum per smartphone subscriber than other developed nations. This growth, while excellent and productive, requires significantly more spectrum, as outlined by the U.S. National Broadband Plan, which has identified the need for 500 MHz of new spectrum within 10 years.

CTIA published information on the efficient use of spectrum by the U.S. versus other developed nations. As of mid-2011, the U.S. served 788,000 subscribers per MHz of spectrum, nearly double the efficiency of any other country. At the same time, the U.S. has only 50 MHz of usable spectrum in the pipeline. To help put this in context, Japan, in contrast, has 351,000 subscribers per MHz and 400 MHz of spectrum in the pipeline; Germany has 179,000 subscribers per MHz and recently auctioned another 350 MHz of spectrum. There is no myth about the severe shortage of spectrum available in the U.S. for future growth and innovation.

New Wireless Broadband Applications and Devices: Understanding the Impact on Networks analyzes and presents some of the deeper aspects of addressing the increased load on HSPA and LTE mobile broadband networks due to the new types of traffic and increased Internet access on wireless. The report identifies requirements for the areas of the ecosystem that are generating the most traffic and provides recommendations for wireless infrastructure, devices, mobile Operating Systems (OS) and user behavior.

Some key conclusions of the paper include the following:

Capacity for mobile broadband must continue to increase as new technologies and powerful devices that support bursty and chatty applications and drain network resources enter the market

Efficient use of radio resources through innovations for traffic offloading and the use of the best available access such as Wi-Fi, femtocells and picocells should be considered

Collaboration between network providers, application providers and device manufacturers is essential to address capacity needs and end user expectations. Improvements could be made to application design, device platforms and feature activations

"Innovative usage of network resources by all stakeholders is needed to address the predicted growth in data and signaling traffic through one cohesive ecosystem family," Pearson added. "This will require collaboration between application developers to use device resources judiciously, device manufacturers to leverage radio and device capacity by conserving features efficiently, service providers to manage their network resources to optimize traffic flow and handle varying traffic needs and network vendors to drive efficiencies into network equipment."

New Wireless Broadband Applications and Devices: Understanding the Impact on Networks was written collaboratively by members of 4G Americas and is available for free download at: www.4gamericas.org.

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