Friday, October 22, 2010

Mobile Broadband Spectrum Demand

The Federal Communication Commission has released a really interesting report titled Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum. The report takes a detailed look at the the current use, growth and need for new wireless broadband spectrum and also estimates the value created by making new spectrum available. Here's some background:

The National Broadband Plan has recommended that the FCC make available 500 megahertz (MHz) of new spectrum available for wireless broadband, including 300 MHz for mobile flexible use within five years. In addition, back on June 28, 2010, President Obama directed in an Executive Memorandum that 500 MHz of new spectrum be made available for mobile and fixed broadband use. The report is an attempt to make some predictions and justify the need for additional spectrum using estimates of various factors affecting aggregate mobile network capacity and mobile data growth. Here's some highlights:

  • Mobile data demand will outstrip available wireless capacity in the near-term
  • Mobile data demand is expected to grow between 25 and 50 times current levels within 5 years.
  • Analysis suggests that the broadband spectrum deficit is likely to approach 300 MHz by 2014.
  • Making available additional spectrum for mobile broadband would create value in excess of $100B in the next five years through avoidance of unnecessary costs.
  • Making new spectrum available has historically taken between six and thirteen years
The report claims the $100B estimate of value creation is narrow, as it does not account for the broader social value created through mobile broadband, which some economists estimate as multiples of the private value. Here's some interesting data on how we are using current services and devices:
  • 42% of consumers are estimated to own a smartphone, up from 16% three years ago.
  • PC aircard users consume 1.4 gigabytes (GB) per month -- 56 times the amount of data used by a regular cell phone.
  • AT&T, the exclusive US carrier of the iPhone, has seen mobile network traffic increase 5,000% over past 3 years.
  • Users of Clearwire’s fourth generation (4G) WiMAX service consume 7 GB per month -- 280 times the amount of data used by a regular cell phone.
I like to think of broadband the way I think of garage space - you can never have too much. Be sure to check out the full FCC report linked here.

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