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CTIA to Feds: Spectrum pipeline needs to be refilled

The broadcast incentive auction hasn’t even been held yet, but the wireless industry is worried that there will be no new spectrum in the pipeline after the final gavel falls.

CTIA-The Wireless Industry association predicts there will be a  78 fold increase in wireless data demand by 2019 and that this increased traffic would require an additional 350 mHz of spectrum from federal regulators.

More worrisome to the CTIA: the typical time from proposal to deployment for a new block of spectrum is 13 years.

“The protracted process of freeing up spectrum places the U.S. at risk of losing its wireless broadband leadership. It is critical to move now to identify new bands to enable the continued growth of wireless—for 4G LTE, LTE Advanced, the Internet of Things, and next generation technologies like 5G,” wrote the CTIA in a just released white paper.

Quick history of spectrum deployment

Spectrum First Step Available Deployment Time Lag
Cellular 1970 1981 1983 13 years
PCS 1989 1995 1995 6 years
EBS/BRS 1996 2006 2009 13 years
SMR 1995 2012 2013 18 years
700MHz 1996 2009 2010 14 years
AWS-1 2000 2006 2008 8 years
WCS 1997 2012 2015 18 years
AWS-3 2002 2015 2017 (est.) 15 years
AWS-4 2003 2012 2017 (est.) 14 year
Incentive Auction 2014 2016 TBD TBD

Source: CTIA-The Wireless Association

The white paper recapped a number of the time consuming challenges faced by the mobile data providers when deploying new spectrum such as the design and manufacture of network equipment, interference testing, and refitting cell tower sites to handle the new spectrum.

How to move forward?  The CTIA notes that the federal government has “sole or primary use of 60-70 percent of spectrum suitable for wireless broadband.”  While the report gives the Obama  administration credit for emphasizing spectrum issues across executive departments and agencies,  the CTIA urges continued focus by Congress and the executive branch. “Without Administration backing and commitment, spectrum reallocations efforts may lag even further behind.”