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Speculating the spectrum crisis: Who is right?

Exploding growth of smart devices has divided the industry into two camps debating on the availability of spectrum in future. One says the world is running out of spectrum. The other says there is nothing to get panicked. One year ago the mobile phone’s inventor Martin Cooper has suggested using innovative technologies rather than giving the carriers more spectrum.

He said that currently the technology with the most potential for carriers to use their networks more efficiently is the smart antenna. A traditional radio antenna on a cellphone tower spews energy out in all directions, but only a portion of it gets to the right phone, he explained. By contrast, the smart antenna would direct energy straight at the phones, and as a result, current spectrum would be put to more efficient use.

Fourth-generation LTE networks are supposed to adopt smart antennas, but most carriers haven’t started installing these yet, he said. These new antennas will also start shipping in phones in the next two years, which would make even better use of the network, he said.

The American carriers differed:

In interviews, representatives of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint said new technology would not be enough to solve all their problems, and they said they would eventually need access to more of the nation’s radio waves. “They’re all Band-Aids, and you have to provide additional spectrum to deal with the wound to deal with the large capacity of bandwidth demands,” said Kathleen Ham, vice president for federal regulatory affairs of T-Mobile USA.

Cooper responded:

Every two and a half years, every spectrum crisis has gotten solved, and that’s going to keep happening. We already know today what the solutions are for the next 50 years.

Now the Europeans are also debating the scarcity of spectrum. Scott McKenzie of Coleago Consulting, a firm in London that advises operators on spectrum auctions, said there was probably no shortage of spectrum in Europe, despite some industry and government assertions otherwise.

I’ve been in this business 25 years and they’ve always been saying that we’re going to run out of spectrum,” he said. “But it has never happened.

Seven years ago, before the advent of modern smartphones, the ITU had predicted the looming of spectrum crisis. Infonetics Research analyst Stéphane Téral said:

But if the I.T.U. forecast had held true, all mobile networks with significant mobile broadband usage would have crashed by now.” The use of private and public Wi-Fi to carry wireless data, are reasons the big crash has not materialized, Mr. Téral said.

There is no silver bullet to address the scarcity of spectrum. Periodically refarming and continuously investing on innovative technologies will prevent the industry from collapsing.

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