WASHINGTON, April 7, 2011 – The Wireless Communications Association International, a technology-neutral broadband advocacy organization, gathered industry experts to discuss next generation fourth generation wireless technology on Wednesday.
“By 2014 most mobile devices will be smart phones,” said R. Gerard Salemme, former Executive Vice President of Strategy Policy and External Affairs of Clearwire, kicking off the event.
Salemme went on to describe how mobile broadband is growing exponentially. Users increasingly use their devices to watch and download video that uses a large amount of bandwidth.
Jeff Kohler, Co-Founder of JAB wireless said, “22 percent of all of our traffic is Netflix.”
To improve network performance many mobile broadband providers are having users switch from the mobile broadband network to local Wi-Fi hotspots.
In response to the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile Salemme said, “The government needs to prevent a harmful duopoly that will increase price and decrease consumer choice.”
On the growth of mobile broadband Iyad Tarazi, VP of Network Development and Engineering at Sprint said, “Consumers want more access but we can’t deliver it yet, but we don’t want to limit consumer usage of our network.”
Each of the major mobile providers is undertaking the transition to 4G differently. Rather than building its own 4G network, Sprint has partnered with WiMax provider, Clearwire, but has also expressed interest in developing a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. Verizon choose to develop and deploy its own LTE network that is currently available in 42 cities. In contrast, AT&T is gradually upgrading its 3G network to HSPA+, which is marginally faster than 3G but not as fast as LTE; the company will then upgrade its HSPA+ network to LTE.
“The backhaul and location requirements of HSPA+ are very similar to LTE, which will make the upgrade happen quickly,” said AT&T’s Lee Strahs. “Additionally when users cannot access the LTE network they will be able to fall back upon the HSPA+ network, which will be faster than having to use the 3G network.”
The expansion of 4G and future mobile broadband is facing a major problem with an impending spectrum crunch.
Ruth Milkman, Wireless Bureau Chief at the Federal Communications Commission, posited a possible solution to the crunch by holding incentive auctions. However, Milkman cautioned that if current license holders were not able to gain some of the profits from the auctions, they would not participate in any auction. Currently federal law states that all proceeds from spectrum auctions go directly to the Treasury Department.
Milkman also felt that the government is unlikely to repurpose its current spectrum holdings but may require federal users to share spectrum.
“Our demand for spectrum within our planning horizon is much greater than the spectrum currently available,” said Hank Hultquist VP of Federal Regulatory at AT&T.
All of the participants called for a spectrum inventory calling it necessary to determine future use.
“We need to conduct an in-depth and expansive spectrum inventory to see what is being actively used and what is lying empty,” said Trey Hanbury Sprint’s Director of Legal and Government Affairs.
Hanbury then called out carriers for holding spectrum that they are not actively using. In response, Hultquist stated that wireless companies must maintain an inventory of unused spectrum that they can deploy as they use up their active holdings. Milkman went on to support the practice in part by underlining the long lead-time between spectrum becoming available and usable by mobile providers.
“We need to start now to prevent any spectrum crunch which will degrade service for consumers,” Milkman said.
Looking beyond consumer connectivity Utilities Telecom Council Director of Regulatory Services Brett Kilbourne talked about how advanced wireless services can become an integral part of the smart grid, which combines the electricity grid with advanced communication tools to allow for better load management and energy savings. Kilbourne then noted that commercial networks may not be the best solution for utilities.
“Utilities require a higher level of reliability and security than many commercial networks currently offer,” Kilbourne said.
Scott Harris, former general counsel at the Department of Energy, said that many utilities are looking to work with commercial networks to create a viable solution.