Originally published: April 18, 2010
Last updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:39am
It's no secret that the future of mobile data in the U.S. hinges on the release of new spectrum over the next few years, but that future is one that's becoming more uncertain by the day.
Network operators, it's clear, must step up their efforts to find ways of handling the ever-increasing amount of traffic on the mobile highway themselves. The looming spectrum crunch will force carriers to step up their efforts to ease congestion and squeeze as much performance out of their networks as possible. As the National Broadband Plan recommends, carriers will need to employ policies and technologies that dynamically allocate bandwidth to devices in real-time depending on users' needs and network resources. Network operators must increasingly embrace Wi-Fi instead of cellular as a way to deliver bandwidth-hogging content, such as video, whenever possible — even if it hurts the bottom line. And mobile players across the value chain should experiment with ways to bring content to handsets at off-peak hours, like GoldSpot Media is doing with in-app video ads. The showdown with TV broadcasters is just the most glaring stumbling block for the FCC, which will also face significant headaches in allocating whatever spectrum it can lay its hands on. The Department of Justice earlier this year officially cautioned the FCC against placing reallocated spectrum in the hands of incumbents such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, urging the agency instead to deliver it to smaller players. While such a move may spur innovation and competition — which is the DOJ's goal — it would do nothing to help alleviate congestion problems of the nation's two largest network operators. So while carriers will surely get access to more spectrum over the next several years, just how much they'll get — and who will get it — is far from clear. Which means it will be up to the network operators and their partners to find ways to support all that mobile data traffic we're sure to see.
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