Spectrum Talk

At least people are talking about it!  Spectrum, that is.  Those concerned about the spectrum crunch often feel like they’re whistling in the wind.  Or just talking to one another, at best.  But this week dawned with an oped in the Wall Street Journal by Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO of AT&T.

The money quote:

“Technology—such as smaller, more sophisticated antennas and wider deployment of Wi-Fi—can solve our near-term spectrum shortage. These network innovations can help, and at AT&T we’re evaluating or investing in all of them. But they are not enough to solve wireless capacity problems—not when nearly half the American adult population owns a smartphone and data usage continues to explode. For example, AT&T’s 30,000 Wi-Fi hotspot network is the largest provided by any U.S. wireless carrier, but it offloads a mere 1% of all the mobile data traffic we carry … If we are to meet our government’s expressed goal of providing high-speed wireless services to 98% of all Americans by 2016, we need to better align national policies with national priorities.”

And on Tuesday, the Brookings Institute hosted a panel discussion, How to Further the Mobile Technology Revolution.  Randall Stephenson again, and Glenn Hutchins, the Co-Founder of Silver Lake.  Darrell West from Brookings moderated.

You can follow the link to see the video, or take a look at this Storify Mobile Future put together, capturing some of the best tweets from the event.

In one evocative anecdote, Randall Stephenson recalled in the year 2000, that they were trying to figure out how to get a video product to market – where could they get the technology to deliver video over copper?  The CTO at the time said, “not in my lifetime.”

That seems rather quaint now, doesn’t it?  But since we’re looking at a situation where demand will outstrip supply in 2013, something’s got to give.

  • Steve Crowley

    In the WSJ piece, Randall Stephenson has some reasonable suggestions for spectrum policy reform. I think he need not be so pessimistic on the potential of offloading. The 1% figure he cites is dramatic, but there are more relevant numbers. In its 15th wireless competition report, the FCC cites data indicating 40% of traffic on AT&T’s iPhones was offloaded to Wi-Fi in the first half of 2010. (This was to Wi-Fi generally, without being restricted to AT&T’s Wi-Fi network.)

    Also, 4G Americas, a U.S. based wireless trade group having AT&T as a member and that has as its mission promoting the use of the 3GPP family of technologies that AT&T uses, says that mobile broadband offloading in the United States is 35% today, and is estimated to be 68% by 2016.

  • Richard Bennett

    Whatever the extent of Wi-Fi offload, it doesn’t do anything for mobile users. I find myself using LTE in airports because it’s less congested than public Wi-Fi anyhow.

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