Detail of Cedalion standing on the shoulders of Orion by Nicolas PoussinDetail of Cedalion standing on the shoulders of Orion by Nicolas PoussinEngineers know this because they stand on the shoulders of giants. Policy people  are too often blinded by the fog of interests. With just the spectrum already allocated, AT&T Blind mice from zhouxuanand Verizon could easily triple their network capacity without breaking the capital budget. The technology is obvious but the change in business models is unlikely. Sprint has remarkable holdings around 2.5GHz. Dish spectrum is totally unused.

There's enough available spectrum to build at least three Verizon-sized networks. The currently allocated but unused spectrum is allowing both AT&T and Verizon to double their wireless capabilities. I wrote this article because <yet another generally very knowledgeable> person just left that doubling out of his predictions. It's commonly overlooked.

My estimate is that spectrum, advanced technology and investment can easily provide a 25x gain many without blowing out capex budgets - if policy is smarter.  The increased costs should be no more than 2% of sales and probably much less.

 With companies the size of the Bells, 1-2% is $billions. That justifies the large lobbying campaign but would be only a modest difference in the company finances. It's far less than the marketing budgets..

More spectrum does not appreciably  increase wireless capacity in general. Telcos build to meet the demand they expect. Spectrum reduces the cost modestly.Verizon confirmed this, telling Wall Street they spent far more in the last auction than the capex required for similar results. U.S. wireless is far from "perfect competition," which would imply most of the benefits would be passed on to the consumer.  

Verizon and AT&T could go for years without more spectrum. They wouldn't be advertising so hard if they couldn't service the customers. Craig Moffett's opinion is that AT&T will not buy the Dish spectrum because "AT&T has a cache of WCS-3 spectrum [2.3 GHz) still to deploy." Phil Goldstein at Fierce adds, "AT&T is also refarming its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for LTE service." Verizon is just starting to use the spectrum they got from the cable companies. Sprint has so much they are looking to sell/lease some. 

"We don't have a spectrum shortage and never will," Marty Cooper, inventor of the cell phone. proclaimed at the Marconi Symposium in DC a year ago. Full video here. With sensible but politically tough decisions, it's easy to see 10x improvements coming soon, even without more spectrum. That's true to levels far above demand with sufficient investment. The more interesting question is how much improvement we will see from plausible investments. 

Joan Marsh of AT&T on the same panel was respectful of other views but pointed out change would take years. More spectrum is very important because it can be put to use without changing the system. Her contention was consistent with the $18B AT&T spent in the last auction. 

Technical change looks to be accelerating in MIMO, carrier aggregation, and interference management (het nets.) Speeds at all the U.S. networks are rapidly increasing while prices are falling. Verizon's capex is down. AT&T this year cut $4B from capex. I think that $4B is the largest decline in the last decade anywhere in the world. 3.5 GHz is just coming into play and the military is primed to release even more. The incentive auction in a few months should bring more. 

What is smarter policy here? The first thing I would recommend is turning on the second SSID in most home gateways. (Purely opt-in). France is doing that and has mobile prices half that of the U.S. At a guess, that would increase VZ & AT&T's capacity in their territories by 50%-100% in dense areas they need it most. Ideally, those gateways would support mobiles from all the carriers. This would be happening except that the telcos charge of LTE and generally don't charge for WiFi/

"Use it or share it" is the second obvious move. It frees up currently unused spectrum. USISH also adds significantly to the capacity of all networks, as Google Fi is quietly demonstrating. When Spring is congested, the call is switched to T-Mobile and vice versa. This would be particularly powerful for VZ & AT&T. When one is congested, the call would switch to the other. The odds are there would be 20-30% capacity available most places. The technical issues aren't trivial but can be solved.

We haven't had a Chairman of the FCC with enough courage in the 15 years I've been reporting.

This article is about the U.S. I am pretty sure Europe is similar but I haven't researched it. India is different: with 8-10 major wireless companies, most do not have the minimum for efficiency, The headline 2-3 Gigabits required estimating how much data 150+ MHzcan carry. It's thoroughly imprecise but I think makes the point more clearly.   


Often interesting

Latest issue

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5GW News

dave right5G? 4G? Whatever the name, wireless is going to a gigabit, soon.  I've reported broadband since 1999 and now is the time for gigabit wireless. Catch a mistake or have news? Email me please. Dave Burstein


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