This afternoon, a group of big thinkers in the wireless space participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by Peter Leyden of Reinventors Network to discuss the future of wireless spectrum. Panelists included Mobile Future Chair Jonathan Spalter, Jennifer Fritzsche from Wells Fargo Securities, engineer Peter Rysavy, New America Foundation’s Michael Calabrese and Larry Irving, President & CEO of The Irving Group and former head of NTIA.
Mobile Future’s Jonathan Spalter opened the program reminding the audience that mobile drives economic productivity of small business on Main Street as well as huge Wall Street companies. Carriers holding exclusive spectrum licenses have invested billions of dollars and helped create a mobile revolution marked by incredible wireless innovations across a range of platforms, devices, and segments of our economy.
A large portion of the discussion centered about spectrum sharing and unlicensed use of spectrum. All participants agreed that wi-fi is a complimentary technology to mobile use, but varied on the appropriate weight of wi-fi in the overall wireless ecosystem.
Peter Rysavy explained that spectrum sharing is complex, and we need many more years of research before it can be the answer to our spectrum needs. Larry Irving pointed out that many low-income and minority communities only have mobile broadband for access to the Internet though and wi-fi is a luxury many cannot afford. Michael Calabrese said it’s been difficult to clear bands for exclusive use, and we should work towards sharing and the proliferation of wi-fi to turn spectrum scarcity into abundance.
With a 70% increase in global wireless data traffic in 2012 and smartphone penetration reaching 50% in the United States, ensuring sufficient spectrum resources is one of the most pressing issues in the wireless sector. Jennifer Fritzsche noted that for one carrier, while only one-third of its customers are using 4G LTE connectivity, those mobile consumers drive 68% of the network’s total data traffic.
In addition to spectrum sharing and unlicensed use, the panel focused on the need for regulatory certainty in the upcoming spectrum auctions. Ms. Fritzsche explained that having incentive auction rules set out clearly and quickly is the key to ending uncertainty for carriers on Wall Street. Mr. Irving agreed, also noting that broadcaster participation is critical to the auction’s success.
The debate ended with panelists calling for an inventory of government spectrum, promoting unlicensed use in the 5 GHz band, and warning that the auction rules are critical to the success of the upcoming incentive auction and must be laid out prior to the auction. The spectrum challenge is a long-term endeavor that the mobile community must continue to work together to solve.