CTIA Keynotes Focus on Spectrum Crunch, Broadband Future

Wireless executives from around the world are using CTIA keynotes to discuss America's supposed spectrum crunch, and the speedy broadband future.

ORLANDO, Fla.-CTIA's second day of keynotes focused on both broadband's spectacular growth, and the equally significant squeeze in spectrum facing the nation's wireless providers.

"It's possible to just be walking down the street, even on Park Avenue in New York City, and lose your connectivity," LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja told the audience gathered here for his opening keynote. "In the end of 2009, global data demand exceeded mobile voice usage. This trend shows absolutely no sign of reversing itself."

CTIA's first day keynote speakers, including FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, spoke to a similar theme. Indeed, the show-runners seem heroically determined to position the unleashing of more spectrum as a national priority, one that will help jumpstart a newfound era of American productivity.

"Current spectrum in the United Sates is severely limited," Ahuja said. "The perfect storm of booming demand, an onslaught of new data services ... has left this industry at an absolutely critical tipping point."

While this translates into some dropped calls and similar inconveniences now, he added, it could eventually result in a "slower-moving information highway that could become a very serious traffic jam."

LightSquared has apparently entered into an agreement with big-box retailer Best Buy for wireless services, but Ahuja did not discuss that deal in any great detail while onstage. LightSquared's corporate mission is to sell wireless-network capacity on a wholesale basis to business partners.

Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, took a more existential angle on the whole wireless industry, with an opening video that compared the rates of babies being born every minute to that of Twitter and Facebook postings.

Referring to those newborns in the opening moments of his speech, Vestberg said: "They will not accept not having coverage."

Continuing the philosophical bent, he then described communication as a "basic human need"-with humanity so needy that, by 2015, there will be some 8 billion mobile subscriptions.

"There will not be that many people on earth in 2015," he said. "People will have several different devices and several different types of subscriptions. In this second phase, it is very important to understand the winners in the first phase may not be the winners in the second phase."

The sum result of all this activity, he added, was the rise of a "networked society" in which "anything that benefits from being connected will be connected."

In the meantime, though, CTIA's theme seems to be there are obstacles to overcome in creating that society.

"If we don't innovate in the private sector and government," Genachowski said during the opening day's keynotes, "we risk letting big opportunities pass us by."

American consumers "know what it means to have a dropped call or a slow connection or cranky WiFi," he added. But "while American ingenuity and our appetite fore wireless is infinite, spectrum is not." The FCC's agenda, in that light, includes not only creating a transparent marketplace, but also removing obstacles to 4G deployment.