US govt plans to double wireless spectrum, create jobs

29 Jun 2010

US President Barack Obama’s administration is planning to double the amount of wireless spectrum available across America in a move that will grow bandwidth and create thousands of new jobs in the process.

The US Federal Government is planning to free up an extra 500Mhz of radio spectrum for broadband over the next 10 years, auctioning it off to mobile operators and other wireless broadband providers.

In a move that should be noted in other countries who need to benefit from broadband – namely Ireland – Obama said that making available 500MHz of federal and commercial spectrum over the next 10 years will foster investment, economic growth and help create hundreds of thousands of jobs by meeting the burgeoning demand for mobile and fixed broadband, other high-value uses and benefits for other industries.

The Presidential Memorandum is part of the broader approach to free up spectrum that also includes legislation to facilitate this transition – the most significant spectrum initiative ever undertaken in this country – by providing incentives to commercial and federal users to use spectrum more efficiently.

This effort will nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum currently available for everything from smartphones to wireless broadband connectivity for laptops to new forms of “machine-to-machine” communication. It will bring the benefits of wireless broadband and the opportunities it fosters across the entire country, including rural areas.

The administration has no official estimate of the auction revenues from this plan. The actual amount will depend on effective implementation and additional design details, but based on past auctions, many analysts believe the revenue potential could reach in the tens of billions of dollars. The proceeds would be invested in public safety, additional job-creating infrastructure investments and deficit reduction.

The threat of a spectrum crunch

In recent years, the amount of information flowing over some wireless networks has grown at more than 250pc per year, with some estimates indicating that the next five years will see an increase in wireless data of between 20 and 45 times 2009 levels, reflecting the increasing use of smartphones, netbooks and other wireless devices.

As the revolution in mobile broadband and related technologies unfolds, the demand for spectrum will continue to increase – leading to increasing fears of a “spectrum crunch.”

Jobs, innovation and growth

The majority of the freed-up spectrum would be auctioned for mobile broadband and other high-value uses. New spectrum access innovations also will allow for sharing of spectrum between the government and private sector users. In addition, there will be new opportunities for innovation through free, unlicensed use of spectrum by technology start-ups, individual users and others.

At the same time, new technologies have the potential to free up spectrum from many of its existing uses. In combination with regulatory changes, and new and emerging technologies can facilitate the repackaging, reallocation and even sharing of spectrum.

Reallocating spectrum to its most valuable use promises to be a win-win effort – creating value that not only spurs new innovations and creates new jobs, but also benefits existing spectrum users by allowing them to raise funds for transformative new investments.

Finally, a critical part of this spectrum initiative will be to provide funding to help build a nationwide interoperable mobile broadband network for public safety. This network would include “next generation” technologies of the kind already being used by major American enterprises and be tailored to meet public safety’s needs.

Additional revenues above and beyond the federal investment necessary to make this network a reality could be invested in productivity-enhancing investments like Next Gen air traffic control, high-speed rail, or the Smart Grid, as well as used for deficit reduction.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years