DALLAS, January 10th, 2013 — Oil is to the industrial age what wireless spectrum is to the information age. Access to the airwaves is required for smart phones, GPS navigation, almost all forms of messaging, as well as the many governmental and military uses that we never think about until something catches on fire.
Clearly this resource has quickly gone from a luxury to an essential part of our society’s connectivity.
Julius Genachowski, current chairman of the FCC, announced at CES this week he will raise a proposal to release a “substantial amount of spectrum for Wi-Fi to relieve Wi-Fi congestion and increase speeds.”
The specifics of the proposal are still unknown but most of the new bandwidth will come from unlicensed spectrum currently owned by several government agencies including the Defense Department. The Wi-Fi spectrum will be increased by almost 35% and be in the 5 GHz range.
This isn’t the only method that Genachowski wants to use to speed up mobile broadband. The SEC has been pushing broadcasters to offer up their unused bandwidth to reduce some of the strain. Although they would receive compensation for allowing traffic to pass through their airwaves the industry has not been excited about this possibility. The fear is that if the shared bandwidth option actually works, the FCC and other government agencies might require more in that area, possibly leading to a reduction in the number of broadcasters.
Genachowski said, “We’re in a global bandwidth race and our competitors are not slowing down”.
The discussion of spectrum shortage is not a new one but has been heating up as of late. The problem is that almost all available wireless spectrum goes unused most of the time. This sounds strange but it’s due in part to the fact that the private sector must purchase exclusive rights to use specific frequencies. On top of this the frequency often requires a specific location and purpose to be designated. This is an inefficient method of spectrum management and clearly a change is required.
The question becomes should the change increase or decrease bandwidth regulations.
Given the tendency of the government as of late to increase regulations it is likely that in the near future you will see the FCC allotting unused bandwidth owned by the private sector to fulfill various public needs. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it will require oversight and management which gets expensive.
The better solution may be to reduce the requirements of the private sector to specify exactly what the bandwidth is used for and allow them to “rent out” spectrum when it is available. Either way will increase costs for someone, either the government or private industry.
The only thing for certain is that change is inevitable and someone needs to get in front of this before it happens.
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