Originally published: March 28, 2012
Last updated: April 5, 2012 - 6:20am
[Commentary] We’ve heard a lot recently about the pressing need for government action to free up more radio spectrum for wireless communications or to allow mergers or acquisitions purportedly aimed at the same goal. It’s no surprise that this issue attracts attention in Washington. When people can’t use their mobile devices to make or receive calls or to access content and data, they notice and they make themselves heard. And as any wireless consumer knows, service providers are struggling to meet the rapidly growing demand created by consumers’ desire for innovative devices, applications and content delivered wherever and whenever they want. But focusing on spectrum alone is unlikely to solve wireless network congestion in the long run. Spectrum is a finite resource.
While laws passed by Congress can assign and allocate spectrum, the many competing uses for capacity and the laws of physics limit how much spectrum is available for any one purpose. If consumer demand for wireless broadband continues to increase at predicted levels, policymakers will need to employ all available approaches to encourage efficient use of the wireless spectrum. A key factor in encouraging efficient use of spectrum has been largely overlooked in policy discussions. Wireless providers can add capacity, without obtaining more spectrum, by adding more and more antennas, generally referred to as cell sites. Additional cell sites allow the same spectrum to be used by even more consumers, subject to some well understood design considerations. Importantly, each additional cell site requires a wired connection to the global Internet.
[Crowe is CEO of Level 3 Communications]
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