As the nation goes crazy for faster and faster mobile data, carriers are running out of capacity. Now goes the hunt to find more wireless spectrum to push those Instagram photos, WhatsApp chats and Skype video-conferences on.

There is a “looming spectrum crisis,” as FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has been claiming since he took office in 2009. With mobile users becoming more data-hungry than ever, carriers are scrambling to secure so-called airspace. The target: TV stations and networks. With increased demand, however, spectrum allocation is becoming more and more expensive, and government is trying to encourage media networks into auctioning off their allocation, with some of the proceeds then being used to establish a public safety broadcast network.

The move does have its detractors, though. While the FCC, CTIA and Cisco Systems believe that broadcast companies should give way to more data-oriented usage of the UHF spectrum, some lobby groups — which include the National Association of Broadcasters — believe this move will hamper the media industry’s own efforts to develop its own mobile technologies, such as streaming.

Even as broadcasters are finding their assets and licenses suddenly skyrocketing in value, the so-called “spectrum grab” might not exactly offer a balanced view of the industry, in which broadcast companies are seen as the old guard, while telecoms companies with their 4G networks are going to usher in new frontiers in communication.

It’s not all about network capacity, too. Even re-allocating UHF channels 32 to 51, for instance, would entail major costs on TV stations operating on these frequencies. Shifting bands (say from UHF to VHF) will require physically changing antenna infrastructure and even relocating transmission stations, due to the different nuances between these bands.

Some groups, mostly in the academe, are on a wait-and-see philosophy, and are actually conducting studies to look into how to better use what existing capacity networks have, without the need to acquire additional spectrum.

As mobile users, do we have to fear that day in which our data access will slow down to a halt because network capacity can no longer support services? It’s an ongoing debate, and a feature on Variety¬†tries to shed some light on the matter. One thing we can learn from this debate is that our increasing demand for mobile access is already taking a toll on a resource previously thought to be abundant. It’s thin air, after all — or actually just an invisible portion of the light spectrum.

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise platforms, and is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team that offers digital content and marketing services.
  • ConCal

    Its kinda funny to think that companies can purchase spectrum. Its kind of like a business owning a color.

    • MacMan156

      Step back! No one can use my shade of pink! It’s mine!

      • Magnetic1

        But it would be rude to show up in a pink tie that you are already wearing. FCC does this color coordination thing so that people can blend, so to speak without being unfashionable.

  • Anthony Hart

    This would solve most of our problems I think….

    Harald Haas: Wireless data from every light bulb

  • Magnetic1

    This argument is like the oil companies complaining about not getting enough leases on federal land to drill.
    Companies sit on the hands when they don’t want to invest in new research. Have you ever heard of bandwidth efficiency?
    Well if they can improve automotive fuel economy then I think the FCC could get off their butt and start influencing the industry to improve bandwidth efficiency. So far it appears, most of the capacity gains of late had to do with queuing theory more than anything else.
    Carrier aggregation is lumping more channels together to offer opportunity for more channel sharing, not really anything new here.

    • To implement automotive efficiency is easier than implementing spectrum efficiency. Can it be done, yes. But the would have to refarm spectrum and shut down old networks. All of which takes time because there are people still using phones from 2005, like my parents. People here still using old phones is one of the biggest issues of shut old networks down or refarming. But some network and spectrum efficiency can be applied by updating networks like the hpsa network upgrades.

  • Mike Reid

    NAB ? Interesting…

    US carriers tend to eschew enabling FM chips and proving FM apps in smart-phones for a few reasons, including data plan revenue lost and carrier desires to be the gate-keepers of content. Sprint is supposed to be getting ransom later this year from US broadcasters to enable FM, and others may follow, for sufficient $.

    So here, TV broadcasters have something the carriers want. TV & FM are different frequency bands, but there is some inter-ownership among large media groups.