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NAB Study Questions 'Spectrum Crisis'

Last week the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) released a study that discredits the claim of a spectrum crisis for mobile broadband The study, Solving the Capacity Crunch – Options for Enhancing Data Capacity on Wireless Networks shows that the National Broadband Plan's assertion that 500 MHz of additional broadband spectrum is needed--including 120 MHz from TV broadcasting--is not based on fact, but rather a on a "wish list" from wireless carriers.

The study was conducted by former FCC official Uzoma Onyeije. Onyeije is the former Broadband Legal Advisor to the FCC Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

According to Onyeije:

"The factual basis for the 'spectrum crisis' claim is underwhelming. For example, the answer to the fundamental question of how much spectrum mobile carriers need remains uncertain. It appears that the notion of a need for large-scale spectrum reallocation to address a shortage of mobile spectrum is based on questionable assumptions designed to achieve a particular result."

He continues:

"Spectrum and capacity are not synonymous terms. While mobile carriers are concerned about capacity shortfalls in a limited number of locations, these concerns should not and cannot be addressed with a singular focus on spectrum. Instead, technological advances and localized solutions represent the best long-term solutions to address capacity constraints."

Some of the technological advances recommended in the study include upgrading network technology (move to more spectrum efficient technologies), adopting fair use policies (a small percentage of users generate disproportionate amounts of traffic), and migrating voice to Internet protocol (packet based VoIP is more efficient than circuit switched voice traffic).

The study also suggests that there should be leveraging of customer infrastructure (femtocells and Wi-Fi), enhancing carrier infrastructure (i.e. distributed antenna systems, sectorization, splitting cell sites), packet prioritization, caching, channel bonding (using noncontiguous spectrum channels in a contiguous manner), and encouraging the development of bandwidth-sensitive applications and devices (AT&T has already begun notifying developers when their applications hog bandwidth).

The study urges the FCC to adopt receiver standards to ensure intensive use of spectrum, noting that interference concerns can limit the use of spectrum. LightSquared's plan for use of spectrum adjacent to the GPS band is mentioned. (See RF Shorts in this week's RF Report for another look at GPS interference.)

The study shows that there is also spectrum in the FCC's pipeline that has yet to be released, including AWS-3 block spectrum at 2155-2175 MHz, H Block spectrum at 1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz, J block spectrum at 2020-2025 MHz and 2175-2180 MHz, and 700 MHz D block spectrum at 758-763 MHz and 788-793 MHz.

The NTIA has also identified spectrum extending from 1695 MHz to1710 MHz and between 3550 MHz and 3650 MHz that could be used for commercial broadband services, with some restrictions to avoid interfering with government operations. (There's a graph in the study that shows this spectrum in the current FCC pipeline and the NTIA fast-track spectrum exceeds the amount of spectrum auctioned between 2006 and 2011.)

The study concludes:

"In the final analysis, the impending "spectrum crisis" is not real. In fact, it includes all the elements of a bestselling science fiction novel. First, the story seamlessly merges reality and fantasy. Second, the tale includes dire predictions about the future if, and only if, the worst-case scenario were to happen concerning a long list of variables. Third, the account ignores all simple solutions in favor of a dramatic conclusion."

The study also notes that "there is a manufactured enemy," stating that to many, this appears to be free off-air broadcasting. However, this information "masks the fact that there are other spectrum resources available and that carriers and the FCC have meaningful alternatives to manage the increased demand for data services."

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.