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Mobile Data Demand Forecast to Soon Increase Thousand-Fold

Doug Lung

4G Americas is predicting an unabating need for wireless broadband connectivity in the near future, with the global mobile traffic demand forecast to rise one thousand times during the next few years.

The organization’s findings are available in a recently-published 140-page report, “Meeting the 1000x Challenge: The Need for Spectrum, Technology and Policy Innovation,” which describes options available to expand wireless broadband capacity.

The report examines different ways for meeting this demand, but concludes, “Technological innovation, coupled with massive investment, is necessary, but not sufficient to reach the 1000x goal. The need for additional spectrum is vital to support mobile broadband growth. The industry needs a fast track access to as much premium spectrum as possible for mobile broadband use and therefore, innovation in spectrum regulation must occur.”

The document continues: “Policy makers will have to consider each and every sliver of under-utilized spectrum for licensed use, using new policy tools available in their arsenal. In this context, it is important to adopt what is known as Authorized/Licensed Shared Access (ASA/LSA), a complementary method of licensing spectrum to enable fast-track availability and using harmonized spectrum for mobile cellular use. ASA/LSA allows some incumbents’ underutilized spectrum (either in time, geography and/or frequency) to be used more efficiently.”

The report shows a total spectrum need for the United States reaching 1,720 MHz by 2020.

Much of the Report is devoted to examination of technologies that could allow more efficient use of spectrum. One of these is “extreme densification of networks using small cells.” This would be accomplished with an ad-hoc deployment model using viral, “unplanned” plug-and-play, self-organizing, indoor and outdoor 3G/4G cells deployed more like Wi-Fi. These would be user- installed, but managed by the mobile operators.

Another possible solution is the use of eMBMS LTE broadcast technology to handle popular live streaming video content. The Report makes this interesting observation on mobile video usage: “Traditionally, a number of users watch the same video in Linear TV. However, Linear TV is not commonly used on mobile devices. The real application for eMBMS delivery of video to smart phones and tablets is in stadia where specialized content such as action replays is watched by a large number of people at the same time. With a number of small cells covering the stadium, eMBMS with SFN could be substantially better than unicasting to different users.”

A chart in the Report labels the 2095-2110 MHz spectrum block (the top part of the 2 GHz BAS ENG band) as “downlink,” but this isn't discussed in the text.

The report does reference the FCC's Incentive Auction of 600 MHz spectrum, concluding: “While maximizing the amount of spectrum that will be freed up for mobile broadband use through this auction is FCC’s goal, which is highly praised by the mobile broadband industry, how much spectrum can be actually freed up and made available for mobile broadband use remains to be seen.”

In addition to the above topics, the report also includes a detailed examination for potential use of the 3.5 GHz band, as well as spectrum currently allocated to the Federal Government. The document doesn’t put much emphasis on 600 MHz spectrum. A graph that shows quarter-wave antenna size compared to a standard smartphone highlights the difficulties in using this low-UHF spectrum. Another graph reveals a possible 600 MHz band plan with television channels continuing to exist above Channel 37.

“Meeting the 1000x Challenge: The Need for Spectrum, Technology and Policy Innovation is available online.

Doug Lung

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.