I had the opportunity to attend 3G Americas forum on wireless broadband in DC today. 3G Americas is an organization comprised of telecommunications service providers and manufacturers charged with promoting GSM around the world. They have hosted a few forums in the District of Communications, and I always find their briefings quite informative. Today was no different with FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker, T-Mobile’s Neville Ray, Nokia-Siemens Networks Sue Spradley, and Ericsson’s Erik Ekudden providing their perspectives on the mobile broadband evolution and revolution.
Comissioner Baker kicked off the conversation and set the tone for the forum as she proclaimed: “I’m here because wireless is so important.” She discussed the meteoric rise of mobile and how it will be a key component of the overall broadband plan that will be submitted to Congress in February 2010. Commissioner Baker is excited about the explosion of wireless data but very concerned about “the spectrum pipeline drying up.” She hopes that the Commission can identify additional spectrum for carriers but also do it in a timely fashion. She noted how long it took to free up spectrum for cellular, PCS, as well as the DTV spectrum. Overall, she wants to mitigate uncertainty in regulatory policies and acknowledged that such uncertainty can lead to higher prices for consumers – “this is something we can ill-afford in building a connected nation.”
Nevile Ray, Senior Vice President, Engineering & Operations (T-Mobile), provided the carrier perspective. He echoed Ms. Baker’s comments regarding the explosion of data and was emphatic that operators are “not standing still.” In T-Mobile’s case, they are evolving to HSPA+ as an interim step to LTE. Mr. Ray believes that increasing spectral efficiency, increasing cell site deployments, and more spectrum will be critical to meeting the mobile broadband explosion.
Sue Spradley, President, North America (Nokia Siemens Networks), talked about the business challenges. Ms. Spradley stated that “the real challenge as usuage goes up is revenue per user doesn’t necessarily go up” and that the whole “ecosystem is under tremendous pressure.” She cited that the time it to for GSM to evolve to HSPA was long and that the evolution to LTE will “happen quicker because the ecosystem demand is driving it.” She also urged regulators to take a “balanced approach” with “no sweeping regulatory changes” because it will cause the industry to “stop and wait.”
Erik Ekudden, Head of Technology and Industry (Ericsson), beat the drum for more spectrum and global harmonization in band allocations. Mr. Ekudden predicts “everyone on Earth is going to want mobile broadband” and the ITU states that industry will need a minimum of 1,280 MHz by the year 2020.
Overall, I believe the forum could best be summed up by the response to a question regarding cell site density and whether it could make up the difference for a lack of spectrum as consumers continue to utilize wireless broadband. The panel addressed it by saying that reuse would only mitigate the problem but Ms. Spradley quoted Wayne Gretzky and said “a good hockey player plays where the puck is and a great hockey player plays where the puck is going.” Thus, industry and regulators in tackling these issues need to plan where the “puck is going.”