Monday, June 29, 2015

U.S. Needs More Than 350 MHz of Additional Licensed Spectrum

On June 24, Coleman Bazelon and Guilia McHenry of The Brattle Group released a new study prepared for CTIA – The Wireless Association. The study is entitled: “Substantial Licensed Spectrum Deficit (2015-2019): Updating the FCC’s Mobile Data Demand Projections.”
Here is the study’s conclusion as presented up front by Mr. Bazelon and Ms. McHenry:

“Five years ago the Federal Communications Commission projected a licensed spectrum deficit of almost 300 MHz by 2014. Using the FCC’s own formula and approach, we update that forecast and find that by 2019, the U.S. will need more than 350 additional MHz of licensed spectrum to support projected commercial mobile wireless demand. Accordingly, over the next five years the United States (U.S.) must increase its existing supply of licensed broadband spectrum by over 50 percent.

This analysis relies on current projections that demand for wireless broadband capacity, even after accounting for offload to unlicensed services, will increase by six-fold by 2019. Our predictions suggest that just under half of this new demand can be met by increased deployment of cell sites and improved technology, particularly a heavier reliance on 4G and LTE Advanced technologies. In the past six years, wireless operators have invested over $160 billion and, even with additional spectrum, a similar financial commitment will be necessary to enhance and expand networks to help meet significantly higher data volumes.

After accounting for this increased investment by carriers in network technology and infrastructure, we estimate that by 2019 net data demand will increase more than three-fold over 2014 levels. This remaining increase in demand will need to be met by additional licensed spectrum allocations. Importantly, if demand increases faster than expected, if technology deployments lag, or if cell site deployment slows, even more licensed spectrum will be needed. Finally, even if over 350 MHz is repurposed to mobile broadband in the next five years, that spectrum will not address the even greater demand that we expect in 2020 and beyond.”

There is no doubt that making available adequate spectrum to accommodate the increasing demand for wireless services is crucial to the nation’s social and economic well-being. This new study by Mr. Bazelon and Ms. McHenry makes an important contribution in documenting the need for 350 MHz of additional spectrum by 2019 to support projected demand.
For many years, FSF scholars have addressed the need for additional licensed spectrum for wireless services. In the coming days and weeks, we will have more to say about the new study and ways to address the increasing demand for licensed spectrum.