That was the title of a terrific San Jose Mercury News article, Sunday June 27th by columnist Chris O'Brien. The online version title is: We're not ready for the mobile revolution
O'Brien writes, "We are reaching capacity on our wireless networks. The gadgets we use have caused such a dramatic surge in mobile data that it is creating a bottleneck in the infrastructure needed to carry the traffic. Even worse, this is happening as smartphone innovation has made the U.S. the world's most exciting mobile market after years of lagging. Now that innovation could be put on hold while the networks catch up. That's bad for consumers, investors and the economy."
What are the potential remedies to provide more wireless bandwidth to mobile users? We have long stated that it will be a combination of several steps, taken in the following sequence or in parallel:
- Increased backhaul bandwidth from cell towers to/ from Internet /ISP POP
- Off loading traffic to WiFi hot spots (with broadband wireline Internet access) and Femtocells (within homes and the enterprise/ business building
- Topology tricks, like using more cells within a given geographical area (often referred to as pico-cells)
- Using Self Organizing Networks (SONs) to dynamically assign users to sectors/ cells based on traffic load and proximity
- Upgrading to 3G+ air interfaces, e.g. HSPA+
- Obtaining more spectrum (the wireless equivalent of getting a fat fiber pipe which supports much higer aggregate bandwidth)
- Forklift upgrade to LTE or (now less likely) Mobile WiMAX
Here are a few of the related questions discussed at the ComSocSCV-TiE sponsored Mobile Apps workshop on June 24th:
- Is mobile backhaul the real choke point for improved aggregate access bandwidth to users? Will different backhaul technologies be needed for different mobile access networks, e.g. Mobile WiMAX, HSPA, HSPA+, LTE, TD-LTE, etc. In particular, when will it be necessary to use fiber backhaul in place of microwave or copper backhaul, which is now far more prevalent (at least in the U.S.)
- Can topology tricks like pico cells, femtocells, off loading traffic to WiFi hot spots be effectively used to improve bandwidth per user? Or is this just a gimmick?
- Pico cells require more backhaul points. Are operators planning for this? How about recovery from failed cells (since there will be more cells in a given area)?
- When and how will U.S. operators receive more spectrum as the FCC wants to provide?
Regarding operators obtaining more spectrum, President Obama will today commit to auctioning 500MHz of federal and commercial spectrum, the target set in the FCC's proposals for the National Broadband Plan. The move would almost double the available amount of spectrum for wireless communications over the next 10 years. Revenue from the auctions would be spent on the long awaited national public safety network, plus other infrastructure investments and deficit reduction, said the administration. The announcement is significant because it puts momentum behind actions that the FCC does not have the authority to take on its own.
In a pre-released statement, U.S. National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers, said: "The president's plan will nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum available to unleash the innovative potential of wireless broadband. This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs."
A primary aim is to extend broadband access, via wireless networks, to rural and underserved areas, and to address fears that the US will face a spectrum famine, as the use of wireless devices and data explodes, raising challenges for US economic competitiveness. Proceeds from the auctions would go in part to finance the construction of improved communications systems for police, fire and other public safety agencies.
Roughly 45 percent of the spectrum to be auctioned would come from federal government agencies that will be asked to give up allocations that they are not using or could share, according to administration officials. The remainder would come from unused spectrum already scheduled for auction or from broadcasters and other spectrum licensees who would be offered incentives to give up or share parts of their communications airwaves.
However, some aspects could be opposed by TV broadcast companies, which will be asked to give up some of their spectrum for auction. Cable companies that have invested heavily in wired telecommunications networks could also lose from this new direction.
"Expanding broadband is important, and broadcasters will work constructively with policymakers to help them attain that objective. We appreciate FCC assurances that further reclamation of broadcast television spectrum will be completely voluntary, and we're convinced that America can have both the finest broadband and broadcasting system in the world without jeopardizing the future of free and local TV service to tens of millions of viewers" said Dennis Wharton, EVP of the National Association of Broadcasters.
"We also believe the first priority of Congress ought to be passage of spectrum inventory legislation that identifies fallow spectrum or companies that may be 'warehousing' the airwaves,." he said.
What do readers think? Is more spectrum the answer? Will it just be used in unserved or underserved areas or in metro areas experiencing wireless network saturation, e.g. New York and San Francisco (for AT&Ts 3G network)
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