Spectrum, Data, Capacity, and PR

A couple of days ago the Mobile Future coalition posted a short video on YouTube advocating the allocation of more spectrum to mobile broadband. As evidence of the need, it says that, compared to feature phones, smartphones use 24 times the spectrum and tablets 120 times the spectrum.

A 3G feature phone on Verizon’s network uses about 1.25 MHz of spectrum. Using the above multipliers, a smartphone would need 30 MHz and a tablet 150 MHz, more than the total spectrum inventory of some carriers. In reality, smartphones and tablets use the same 1.25 MHz. What’s going on?

I assume the numbers Mobile Future cites come from the latest Cisco forecast (p7), but those are for increases in data traffic, not spectrum. Mobile Future seemingly equates the two, but they’re different. Data traffic increases with smartphones and tablets, but that data takes up capacity in existing spectrum. At some point, that spectrum runs out of capacity. More spectrum, along with other techniques, can be used to add capacity.

I sense the hand of a PR firm in this, which means it wasn’t cheap. Fortunately, the error seems confined to the voiceover, which can be redone relatively easily. To be breezy about it, for the sake of a two-minute video, the revised message might be that spectrum capacity is limited, smartphones and tablets use much more, when we run low performance suffers, more spectrum adds capacity improving performance.

Wireless service rationing? Millions of new jobs? Hey, it’s an advocacy video. I’d be very pleased if this video drew more attention to spectrum issues, and did not contribute to the myths.

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  • Richard Bennett

    Good luck with that. The average citizen doesn’t understand the difference between data capacity and spectrum, and Washington never acts until it perceives a crisis. The successful resolution of the spectrum discussion will avert a spectrum crunch, but dithering will ensure that we’ll be squeezed in terms of application development in a few years, if we aren’t already.

  • George Ou

    Using 100 times the spectrum could mean 100 times the duration and 100 times the number of available time slots within the same frequency.

  • Richard Bennett

    These PR firms are using the term “spectrum” the same way that we’ve been misusing “bandwidth” all along. Smartphones with cool apps consume more data capacity than feature phones or dumb phones, but the amount can’t be predicted with much precision without making many assumptions about the application mix.

  • Steve Crowley

    I see George’s point and it’s a reasonable one. I’d suggest, however, that the Forum not use that interpretation as it’s different from the common usage of “more spectrum,” including by some of the Forum’s members. There’s a good story to tell without doing so.

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