Spectrum Need Fuels Tension Between Wireless Industry, FCC

At the CTIA Wireless show, industry officials and the FCC said more work needs to be done to find more spectrum to meet the mounting demand for wireless services.

NEW ORLEANS €” Despite talk of greater innovation and efficiency, the key concern in the wireless industry is the need for more spectrum. And while both the wireless industry and the government€™s largest wireless regulator tout the work each has done to deal with the issue, tensions between the two sides persist.

During the morning keynote presentation at the CTIA Wireless 2012 show here May 8, those tensions were evident. Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, talked about the $25 billion that carriers spent last year to improve their networks and the 12 percent increase in the number of carrier cell sites. This comes at a time when the number of data-capable devices in 2011 grew 9 percent from the previous year and the number of wireless subscriptions jumped 7 percent.

The industry is doing its part in addressing the skyrocketing demand for wireless services, Largent said during the event.

€œWe also need government to do their part,€ he said, pointing to Congress, regulators and the Obama Administration. €œThey simply need [to release] more spectrum. €¦ Getting more spectrum is the No. 1 goal at CTIA.

However, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said the agency over the past three years has taken significant steps in opening up more spectrum to the wireless industry, and is pushing forward with a goal to open up 300MHz more spectrum by 2015 and another 200MHz by 2020.

Industry officials and Genachowski both spoke about several areas where they have worked closely to address issues, such as cyber-security. They also have worked together to free up more spectrum, but they also talked about steps the other side needs to make, from the government finding more spectrum to the industry continuing to drive innovation around efficiency.

Genachowski pointed to spectrum auctions initiated by the FCC that he said has freed up a substantial amount of spectrum for the industry. He also touted other initiatives, from opening up white space for spectrum use and creating incentive auctions to repurpose spectrum use to pushing the idea of spectrum-sharing between the government and carriers. The FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration are testing the idea of spectrum-sharing, which he said would free up spectrum to wireless carriers that normally would be held only by the government. T-Mobile also is interested in taking part in the tests.

The government also is expanding the amount of spectrum available for WiFi networks, which both the industry and government see as a critical tool for offloading some of the traffic from carrier networks, he said.

Genachowski also pushed back at criticism of the FCC over some recent decisions, in particular its opposition to AT&T€™s aborted $39 billion bid last year to buy smaller rival T-Mobile. AT&T executives argued that the acquisition would have given the carrier the ability to rapidly expand its next-generation wireless networks, and said the FCC€™s opposition would lead to more spectrum shortages and higher prices.

However, Genachowski said the result would have been less competition and harm to consumers, and said that the FCC could not let that happen. Competition is what drives innovation and benefits consumers, he said, disputing the argument that prices are going up or that spectrum is being squeezed because of the agency€™s opposition.

€œThe overall amount of spectrum hasn't changed, except for the amount [the FCC has] added to it," Genachowski said.

The FCC also has come under criticism from the industry for other moves, including its decision to revoke the waiver for LightSquared to run its terrestrial Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network and to probe Verizon€™s $3.6 billion bid to buy spectrum from Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.