Qualcomm CEO says broadcasters likely to give up spectrum

The CEO of Qualcomm, Paul Jacobs, said last week he has “high hopes” that the FCC will be able to persuade television broadcasters to give up their spectrum for wireless broadcast applications.

If the stations can put their content on other platforms, and they are “guaranteed” they’ll be able to do that, “do they really want to waste the electricity to run the towers?” Jacobs asked Friday during a television interview on C-SPAN’s “Communicators” series.

Jacobs said 500MHz is “a lot to go get” — referring to the FCC's target of how much spectrum it wants to free up for mobile broadband over the next 10 years. However, he said he thinks the incentive auctions for broadcasters could free up “large chunks” of that spectrum.

However, the need for spectrum will go on for the foreseeable future. “I think there is going to be a continuing demand for spectrum,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs backed up his reasoning by saying Qualcomm had some experience with incentives due to its own experience paying broadcasters to clear up channels for FLO TV in advance of the DTV transition. “We found that people [broadcasters] were really willing to make that trade-off,” he said.

“We bought spectrum in one of the spectrum auctions,” he said, “and we were able to interest some broadcasters to turn their systems off and let us start broadcasting.” Getting spectrum away from government users will be far more difficult, he predicted.

The FCC is looking to reclaim up to 120MHz of that 500MHz from broadcasters through the clearing off channels they now use, sharing channels and consuming less bandwidth. However, first it must get Congress’ approval to compensate broadcasters through incentive auctions. When Congress acts, Jacobs said broadcasters would reveal their hands.

“The interesting thing will be the dynamic that is created once there is a market system, and then you see who really wants to participate,” he said. “Do the broadcasters still want to be over the air, because, as we know, most people are getting their content through cable or satellite today. And so, we'll see how that goes.”

Jacobs predicted that Congress will be able to approve those auctions “in a reasonable time frame,” pointing out that would mean money for the treasury as well as broadcasters.

As to the FLO TV service, Jacobs said Qualcomm has stopped its direct-to-consumer sales of a device for TV reception of the service. He repeated previous statements that Qualcomm would like to sell it or to become a pipeline for data. The service is still being sold as a video provider for mobile phone users.

He said potential buyers include media companies who he said were thinking about downloading magazines and newspapers, and device manufacturers or applications providers who could use that pipe to update software.

As to the failure of FLO TV, Jacobs said people only want to watch certain things on mobile phones, including sports and news. Episodic TV is not so good, he said. Some form of mobile video will work, he said, but it will come in a different form.