Smartphones & Tablets and the Spectrum Crunch

The FCC has posted a beautiful new “infographic,”  shown below, about the continuing spectrum crunch.  The FCC has been warning for some time about the looming spectrum crunch caused by the rapid adoption of smartphones.  Some have argued that data demand will level off as smartphone adoption becomes saturated, but this view is grossly over-simplistic.  As the FCC points out below, tablet computers are estimated to consume 122 times more data than the typical smartphone, and tablets are only beginning to take off.

Furthermore, the distinction between the newest smartphones and tablets have effectively been erased.  The newest Android smartphones have true High Definition (1280×720 resolution) large widescreen displays that even exceed the resolution of the Apple iPad 1 and iPad 2.  The operating system between Android smartphones and tablets have now officially been merged.  Historically, both the leading smartphone/tablet platforms Apple iOS and Google Android have always been software (app) compatible between smartphone and tablet products.  There were some differences, such as display resolution, but that difference has been eliminated on Android.

Even the cameras on the newest smartphones — such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, Galaxy Nexus, and Apple iPhone 4S — have been upgraded to handle 1080P video recording. This will gobble up data and spectrum as users share images and video with each other on social networks.  All the newest smartphones have front facing cameras that support wireless video conferencing, the stuff of science fiction that would make James T. Kirk envious.

Realistically speaking, we can already see that the latest generation of smartphones will be every bit as data hungry as these spectrum hungry tablet computers depicted in the FCC infographic below.  The smartphone market is headed for annual sales of 600 million units which dwarf the number of tablet computers.  As these high end features trickle down to mainstream smarthphones, hundreds of millions of these miniature tablets will be unleashed onto the wireless infrastructure and they will require far more spectrum.