FCC Wants to Know How to Feed Our Mobile Data Addiction

600px-US-FCC-Seal.svgThe Federal Communications Commission has opened a separate request for comments on the use and allocation of spectrum to go more in-depth on issues raised as part of its National Broadband Plan. The agency will seek comments through Oct. 23, “on the sufficiency of current spectrum allocations in spectrum bands, including but not limited to the prime spectrum bands below 3.7 GHz.”

The industry has recently spent a lot of time pondering how to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband services, mostly because the wireless companies and others in the industry believe the nation is woefully short on airwaves to deliver the mobile web. Various estimates suggest that the U.S. needs 150-400 MHz more of spectrum within the next year. Right now, we have about 409 MHz available and about 50 MHz in the pipeline, according to the CTIA. There may be a shortfall, but before the FCC concedes this, it must open up a comment period. In its request for comments it also points out that it has asked in an earlier Notice of Inquiry for ways to make the existing spectrum more efficient.

Here are some of the scary stats the FCC trots out as the rationale for taking a close look at spectrum:

  • More than 78 percent of U.S. wireless consumers have a wireless device that is capable of accessing the Internet, Motorola notes, and approximately 40 million American consumers are active users of mobile Internet services — a 75 percent increase from two years ago.
  • A traditional handheld device, with average customer usage patterns, will consume about 30 megabytes of data in a month, a single smartphone consumes 30 times that amount, and a single connected notebook or laptop computer consumes 450 times that amount, according to Wireless Communications Association International.
  • AT&T has seen a 5,000 percent growth in data usage over the past three years and relies upon broad contiguous bands of spectrum. To help support this growth, in 2009 AT&T plans to add an additional 2,000 cell sites to its networks.
  • A 2004 National Science Foundation study found that less than 20 percent of the frequency bands below 3 GHz were in use over the course of a business day, according to New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Media Access Project.

The Commission seeks to learn what current spectrum is being used for, how to evaluate how well it is being used, the use of spectrum as a means for wireless and wired backhaul, and which spectrum is best for fixed and mobile wireless broadband.