Presidential panel drives stake into ‘spectrum crisis’

28 May

It’s always fun to juxtapose how different news outlets cover the same story. If you’re into wireless technology, there probably couldn’t be a better example of this than CNN and the New York Times.

Check out CNN’s coverage of “the spectrum crunch” from back in February, which offers up such juicy headlines as “America’s airwaves are full,” “Why your cellphone bill is going up” and “4 ways to stave off the cell phone apocalypse.”

Now take a look at a story the Times ran over the weekend about how, “Presidential panel urges more flexible use of spectrum.” According to the panel, which included Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie amoung others, there is no spectrum crisis, contrary to claims made by cellphone carriers and directly parroted by CNN.

If the government agencies and companies who use wireless spectrum simply adopted new computer technology that allowed for more efficient and flexible use of airwaves, the fast growth in all this smartphone data traffic wouldn’t be a problem at all:

The committee’s authors believed that agile radio technologies that make it possible for computerized radio systems to share spectrum on a vastly more efficient basis would make it possible to move from an era of scarcity to one of abundance. The central point of the report is that while there is no new spectrum available, new technologies can vastly increase the capacity of existing spectrum.

How vastly? Up to 40,000 times.

“We’re living with spectrum that is of a policy that was really set in motion by technology of 100 years ago,” said Mark Gorenberg, who sat on the panel. “That’s led to a fragmentation of the spectrum that has led to inefficiency and artificial scarcity.”

The report follows on an earlier story by the Times in which several network engineers, including cellphone inventor Martin Cooper, dispelled wireless carriers’ claims of a spectrum crisis. As the engineers put it, running out of spectrum would be like running out of a colour. “Somehow in the last 100 years, every time there is a problem of getting more spectrum, there is a technology that comes along that solves that problem,” Cooper said.

While there’s no question that smartphone data usage is growing quickly, wireless carriers are actually quite happy with the current spectrum system because it ensures they control all the airwaves. It’s good to see the Times speaking to people in the know as opposed to simply swallowing the industry’s claims blindly.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 28, 2012 in telecommunications


One response to “Presidential panel drives stake into ‘spectrum crisis’

  1. russellmcormond

    May 28, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I made this argument in a few interviews recently: that the whole concept of a “spectrum auction” is an outdated concept made redundant by modern technology. What we have now is government colluding with specific industry association who purchase artificial government impose scarcity. Where are all the free market capitalists, or pro-business folks who supposedly sit in the Conservative caucus as we go forward with yet more silly spectrum auctions?

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