NAB questions ‘spectrum crisis’

The National Association of Broadcasters has filed with the FCC a study by former FCC official Uzoma Onyeije questioning the existence of a spectrum crisis. The paper – Solving the Capacity Crunch: Options for Enhancing Data Capacity on Wireless Networks – suggests alternative solutions to auctioning broadcasting spectrum to help alleviate mobile broadband congestion.

In the paper, Onyeije shows that insufficient analysis and reliance on faulty information in the formation of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan has led to the overstated assumption of a nationwide spectrum “crisis“. The paper cautions that using flawed data to address the capacity crunch affecting only a handful of cities will lead to inadequate solutions. Onyeije calls for a comprehensive and quantitative analysis of the issue that is not based on preconceived assumptions.

“The factual basis for the ‘spectrum crisis’ claim is underwhelming,” Onyeije wrote in the paper. “For example, the answer to the fundamental question of how much spectrum mobile carriers need remains uncertain. It appears that the notion of a need for large-scale spectrum reallocation to address a shortage of mobile spectrum is based on questionable assumptions designed to achieve a particular result.”

The National Broadband Plan’s conclusion of a spectrum shortage is based on little more than a wish list by wireless carriers, says the paper. Onyeije cites contradictory statements by high-ranking corporate officials to show the Plan’s calls for making 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband in ten years is a gross overestimate of the actual need.

“There is no denying that the corporate imperative of mobile wireless carriers is to obtain as much spectrum as they can,” Onyeije wrote. “However, the fact that wireless carriers cannot find a unified voice on the amount and timing of their spectrum needs suggests that this advocacy is more strategic gamesmanship than factual reality.”

Onyeije offers his support for innovative solutions that have been previously deployed and currently being developed to address capacity needs, and which can be utilised much faster and more efficiently than a reallocation of broadcast spectrum. The paper shows that these spectral efficient techniques have been used many times over the past four decades and are over 60 times more useful in increasing data capacity than spectrum assignments. These solutions include:

– deploying innovative network technology upgrades that promote spectral efficiency;
– leveraging consumer infrastructure such as femtocells and WiFi;
– investing in infrastructure to enhance capacity through the deployment of smart antennas, picocells, sectorisation and cell splitting;
– encouraging the development of bandwidth sensitive applications
“Many parties overstate the extent of the capacity problem, on the one hand, and understate the availability of solutions, on the other hand,” Onyeije wrote in the paper. “These parties fail to recognise the unrelenting pace of wireless innovation as the ‘spectrum crisis’ claim is premised on false assumptions about the wireless industry’s technological stagnation and the necessity of regulatory intervention. But wireless innovations are not a thing of the past, and the free market is as robust as ever.”

Onyeije is the former Broadband Legal Advisor to the FCC Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, where he advised the high-ranking officials including the FCC Chairman and Commissioners on a wide range of spectrum management issues.

The paper was filed with the FCC in response to a request for comments on potential reallocation of broadcast spectrum.  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith disagreed publicly over the issue at the recent NAB Show in Las Vegas.

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