Gadgets, gizmos aside, spectrum will fuel future

The Motorola tablet running on Google Android 3.0, swirling speculation of the imminent availability of the Apple iPhone on the Verizon 4G LTE network and the last minute decision by Google to pull back on Google TV were among the many twists and turns at the 2011 International CES in Las Vegas.

But if there is a single takeaway from the show, it may have been voiced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who said, “The consumer electronics industry is going wireless, and the future success of this industry and our innovation future depends on whether our government acts quickly to unleash more spectrum, the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices.” (See “FCC chairman lays out steps to freeing spectrum for wireless broadband at 2011 CES.”)

Demand for wireless spectrum, forecasted to be driven in large part by consumer hunger for all things video, will grow at a remarkable rate. Quoting industry forecasts of a 35x increase in mobile broadband traffic over the next five years, the FCC chairman said he believed the figure to be conservative and “not fully accounting for the explosive growth of tablets and what I predict we’ll see from 4G.”

While the chairman’s remarks remained within the bounds of what he has laid out before on several occasions, including the need for voluntary incentive auctions to recoup contiguous swaths of spectrum from TV broadcasters and others to meet anticipated wireless broadband demand, the head of the CEA turned up the rhetorical heat directed at TV broadcasters. In a speech Jan. 6 at the convention, CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro likened TV broadcasters to “squatters” on spectrum that could better be used to meet broadband demand and spur innovation.

The comments of Shapiro, who released “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore The American Dream,” a blueprint for restoring American success, echoed a chorus of voices from the technology and telecommunications community that has pinned the future success of the United States on the global economic stage to the availability of copious amounts of spectrum for broadband Internet service.

A venue like CES underscores the point. With numerous tablet introductions, not the least of which was the Motorola Xoom tablet that will be available on the Verizon 4G LTE network running Google’s Android 3.0, the case for making available more spectrum to serve the entertainment and business needs of consumers is understandable. For instance, among the features of the new Xoom is the ability to video chat with friends and browse among numerous videos to view.

For its part, the broadcast industry finds itself in an uncomfortable position. Having relinquished more than a quarter of its spectrum as part of the DTV transition and eyeing new potential revenue sources for its spectrum in the form of mobile DTV and multicasting, many TV broadcasters are reluctant to contemplate a future without its one-to-many value proposition. “Any construction that says it’s a broadband world to the exclusion of broadcast simply misses the reality of what the future will eventually produce,” Gordon Smith, CEO and president of the NAB, told a Washington Post reporter. “It’s a world of the future that’s broadband and broadcast.”

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.