iPad Gives Another Nudge to Spectrum Reallocation

WASHINGTON: The recently introduced Apple iPad is becoming another salvo in the battle over spectrum allocation. The FCC’s Phil Bellaria said the iPad has “set off a new round of reports of networks overburdened by a data flow they were not built to handle.” Writing at the FCC’s broadband blog site, Bellaria said, the problems were similar to the congestion caused when AOL allowed unlimited Internet access in 1996

“For months users had trouble connecting and, once they did connect, experienced frequent service outages. The FCC even held hearings on the problem.”

The congestion revealed an “intense latent demand for Internet access,” he said. The same phenomena on wireless networks is indicative of similar intense demand that’s only going to get moreso, Bellaria said.

“Widespread use of smartphones, 3G-enabled netbooks, and now, perhaps, the iPad and its competitors demonstrate that wireless broadband will be a hugely important part of the broadband ecosystem as we move ahead,” he said. “With the iPad pointing to even greater demand for mobile broadband on the horizon, we must ensure that network congestion doesn’t choke off a service that consumers clearly find so appealing or frustrate mobile broadband’s ability to keep us competitive in the global broadband economy.”

The congested network in question likely belongs to AT&T, the Dallas Business Journalsaid. AT&T is the exclusive network provider for the iPad. the Journal said AT&T’s networks have been the target of performance complaints, and has acknowledged problems in New York and San Francisco.

Neither the Journal nor Bellaria present any qualified data indicating that AT&T’s network issues are a result of it not having adequate spectrum. AT&T picked up 227 regional spectrum licenses in the 700 MHz auction in 2008, when it also acquired spectrum in the same block through its acquisition of Aloha Partners.

The blog entry, “iPad: Heavy Traffic Ahead,” and responses to it, is available here.