Wireless Network Nearly Maxed Out-More spectrum the answer?

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)

For more information, see: 

White House Supports FCC Wireless Spectrum Position

0 thoughts on “Wireless Network Nearly Maxed Out-More spectrum the answer?

  1. Great article!  But I don't think spectrum is the answer.  It will take too long to allocate the new spectrum so that won't alleviate wireless network congestion/ saturation. A quicker evolution to 3G+/ true 4G is a better fix.  Topology tricks are short term gap plugging solutions.

  2.  

    WCAI Statement on the Obama Administration’s Commitment
    To Auction Off 500 MHz of Federal and Commercial Spectrum

     
    Background: Today, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum to commit the Federal government to make available 500 MHz of Federal and commercial spectrum over the next 10 years to meet the demand for mobile and fixed broadband.  
    The following statement should be attributed to WCAI President and CEO Fred Campbell: 
    “On behalf of the Wireless Broadband industry, I applaud President Obama for recognizing the importance of wireless broadband for today’s global economy and for his commitment to significantly increase the amount of commercial spectrum available for broadband over the next 10 years. The initiative is a critical step toward achieving universal broadband connectivity through the only broadband platform that is capable of providing access everywhere, all the time. We look forward to working the Administration, FCC, NTIA, Congress and other stakeholders to help implement this important initiative.”

  3. President Obama put the weight of the Oval Office behind a plan to free up another 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless data services Monday, touting the benefits of the “wireless broadband revolution” as he ordered federal agencies to work together to free more of the airwaves.

    “Expanded wireless broadband access will trigger the creation of innovative new businesses, provide cost-effective connections in rural areas, increase productivity, improve public safety, and allow for the development of mobile telemedicine, telework, distance learning, and other new applications that will transform Americans’ lives,” Obama said in a signed presidential directive.

    The directive orders the Commerce department and the Federal Communications Commission to figure out how to free up and repurpose 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years as a way to fight off a “looming” bandwidth crunch. From there the country will “use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently,” Obama said.

    The proposal isn’t unexpected — the FCC has already promised to make 300 MHz available for auction within the next five years, but the directive symbolically puts the power of the presidency behind the efforts. That’s necessary because chunks of the spectrum are already held by various federal agencies, none of which are likely to want to give up any radio turf — at least not without pressure from above.

    The announcement won plaudits both from industry groups and digital rights groups that are more accustomed to sending barbs at one another, than agreeing on policy.

    CTIA – The Wireless Association, the trade group for the country’s wireless companies, applauded the directive.

    “By making spectrum available for auction, the administration will enable the wireless industry to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our ‘virtuous cycle’ of innovation,” said the group’s CEO Steve Largent. This announcement is a win for all Americans as it will drive innovation, investment and job creation, while at the same time providing much needed revenue not only for the U.S. Treasury, but also for a nationwide interoperable Public Safety network.

    But the new spectrum will likely revisit the same battles that surrounded the 700 MHz auction in 2008. Namely, what openness rules, if any, should be attached to the auction and what spectrum should be unlicensed open space, such as the space that currently used by Wi-Fi.

    “Congress, the White House and the FCC should commit to dedicating a substantial portion of reallocated spectrum to unlicensed usage, in addition to auctioned spectrum,” the activist group Free Press said in a statement Monday.

    The likely losers in the announcement are television stations, which protest that their use of the spectrum is more efficient than wireless companies.

    The FCC is proposing that broadcasters turn over some 120 to 130 MHz of spectrum that would be auctioned off in 2012.

    Read More http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/06/obama-spectrum-wireless/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher#ixzz0sCwg0l11
     

  4. Alcatel-Lucent agrees that 3G Wireless networks are maxed out:

    3G wireless broadband networks have reached the saturation point in many markets as a result of the explosion of smart phone devices handling video-intensive, content-rich applications. To remain competitive service providers need to plan for 4G LTE-based wireless broadband evolution.

    Such evolution planning involves many factors including: when and where to launch LTE; how much to continue to invest in existing 3G wireless networks and when to decommission such networks; purchasing new spectrum and re-farming existing spectrum, how to support voice traffic; and subscriber management and migration. Mathematical modeling of the optimal partition of 3G and 4G coverage – for example where voice may be currently supported by GSM and data supported by UMTS, how and when to introduce a new technology like LTE– is essential for driving the right business strategy.

    Strategic and cost directional analysis help evaluate how spectrum should be used, which wireless broadband technologies to apply and when to introduce and overlay LTE, in order to support the projected growth of subscriber traffic while taking into account the end-to-end total cost of ownership (TCO) for the operator.

    LTE evolution is more than a move to a new technology. This evolution encompasses a shift in the service provider's business model to a more sustainable and profitable one.

  5. Great article listing potential remedies and critical issues to alleviate wireless network saturation.
    While more spectrum is the ultimate solution, the U.S. wireless duopoly of AT&T and VZW already owns more spectrum than all the other wireless operators combined.  Should they be the recepients of the additional spectrum the federal government wants to free up?  We think not.
    Further, there's a huge time lag between spectrum being granted, and the wireless network build out and check out that follows.  Could me more than a two year delay.  So this will not solve the network congestion/ saturation problem in the short term

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