It isn’t hard to argue that mobile is the preferred way most people around the globe want to use voice services. It also is clear that most broadband connections globally will be wireless as well. Globally, there were 87 mobile phone subscriptions for every 100 people in 2011. There were in 2011 about 18 fixed line phone subscriptions for every 100 people. What now is happening that mobile is becoming the way a majority of people access the Internet. A large part of the reason is that smart phones increasingly represent the way people use the Internet.
All that explains the growing importance of spectrum policy around the world. In the United States, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski says the FCC is “on track to exceed our first benchmark of freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum by 2015.”
Among the actions being taken is an auction 75 MHz of licensed Advanced Wireless Service spectrum for 4G service by 2015. This includes an auction of shared rights to the 1755 to 1780 MHz band, which could be paired with the 2155 MHz to 2180 MHz band already in inventory to extend the AWS band by 50 MHz.
The FCC expects to hold the first of these auctions (of the AWS-2 H-block) in 2013, the FCC says. Also, the agency is changing rules for use of about 70 MHz of spectrum, including 40 megahertz of mobile satellite spectrum that is expected to be re-purposed for land- based mobile use. The Commission is going to allow 30 megahertz in the Wireless Communications Service band to be used for LTE service as well. The FCC also is working to repurpose mobile satellite spectrum in the L- and BIG LEO bands for terrestrial service.
Perhaps the biggest initiative is clearing portions of the broadcast television band (600 MHz), with auctions expected in 2014. There are also significant opportunities to clear and reallocate underutilized government spectrum for commercial use, Genachowski said.
The FCC also is looking at spectrum sharing, allowing unlicensed devices to access valuable unused spectrum in between broadcast TV channels – known as “white spaces.” That is expected to yield “at least several 6 MHz channels in most of major markets and more than 100 megahertz in many parts of the country,” the FCC chief believes. As you might also guess, spectrum now also affects and drives business strategies in the U.S. communications and entertainment markets as well.
Dish Network once hoped to turn Blockbuster and some new re-purposed satellite spectrum into a mobile video service. The plan, in April 2011, was to retain some of the Blockbuster retail locations to sell mobile devices supporting the new proposed service. Those plans floundered when the Federal Communications Commission didn’t quickly approve a waiver allowing Dish to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial data and voice transmission.
LightSquared has been unable to launch its proposed wholesale Long Term Evolution network, and might declare bankruptcy, because it has not been able to convince regulators of the merits of its plan to re-purpose satellite spectrum for use as an LTE network. And though it is not the sole reason, desire to acquire spectrum assets is driving merger and acquisition efforts in the U.S. mobile business. Even the fixed network business now is starting to be shaped by wireless access, as most fixed broadband connections now terminate using Wi-Fi, and support devices capable of using Wi-Fi networks. And the amount of such usage is important. About 68 percent of consumer mobile phone use, for example, now occurs in the home, a study sponsored by AOL and BBDO has found. That, as much as anything, shows the growing importance of “untethered” access for mobile devices.
The study, conducted by research firm InsightsNow, shows that a focus on “mobile” devices actually requires understanding the role of untethered access, which in fact might already represent as much as half of all mobile operations on a smart phone. “Me Time” activities that involve “seeking relaxation and entertainment in order to indulge oneself or pass the time” accounted for about 46 percent of all smart phone app and website activities, averaging 864 minutes per month per user. About 70 percent of those activities are “lean-back” experiences. The need for more spectrum is driving strategy elsewhere as well.
AT&T wanted to buy T-Mobile USA in large part for its spectrum assets. Sprint’s board considered, then rejected, an early 2012 bid to buy MetroPCS. T-Mobile USA now wants to buy MetroPCS in part for its spectrum assets. Verizon has gotten approval to buy mobile frequencies from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks. AT&T is waiting for clearance of its purchase of more spectrum from NextWave. And a rollout of “white spaces” spectrum might start in 2013 as commercial radios become available as well.
For the first time in history, the installed base of smart phones will exceed that of personal computers at the end of 2012.
There were 589 million fixed broadband subscriptions by the end of 2011 (most of which were located in the developed world), but nearly twice as many mobile broadband subscriptions at 1.09 billion, the International Telecommunications Union broadband report says.
Of a stock of 5.97 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2011, some 18.3 percent related to mobile broadband subscriptions..
According to Ericsson,mobile broadband subscriptions are growing by approximately 60 percent year over -year and could reach around 5 billion in 2017.
All of that means spectrum policy is going to be a major concern for policy makers, service providers and investors for many years to come.
By Gary Kim
Gary Kim is an active industry writer and analyst, editor of Mobile Marketing & Technology, Content Marketing News and Carrier Evolution. He is a frequent contributor to IP Carrier and TMCnet, and a good friend of Razorsight. Keep up with all his industry insight — follow him on Twitter @garykim.