“Seven years ago the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) predicted the world would need twice as much radio frequency spectrum as actually is allocated now,” said Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research (News - Alert).
The forecast was wrong. “If the ITU forecast had held true, all mobile networks with significant mobile broadband usage would have crashed by now,” said Téral.
To be sure, all forecasts are difficult. And one reason forecasts so often prove incorrect is that it is hard to account for changes in user behavior or the arrival of better technology. As it turns out, the ITU forecasts might have assumed that spectral efficiency would not improve.
HSPA+ and Long Term Evolution, for example, are two of the primary reasons operators have been able to squeeze more capacity out of physical channels, Téral says. The result of that spectral efficiency is that the need for spectrum has been greatly reduced – often by at least half.
Wi-Fi offload might also be a factor. Some mobile operators report to Infonetics that up to 75 percent of mobile device data traffic is on Wi-Fi.
So there is not a spectrum “crisis” now, despite the ITU projections for demand. Better coding techniques have made a difference, as user behavior also has had an effect.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be a crisis in the future, as new users are added globally, and as more users start to use mobile data bandwidth. That hasn’t prevented some industry supporters to claim there is a present spectrum crisis.
To be fair, since 2010, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) suggested there would be a spectrum deficit of 275 MHz as soon as 2014, it’s been easy to argue that there could be a spectrum crisis forthcoming.
But the FCC might have contributed to the sense of urgency by amending its National Broadband Plan to make 300 MHz of spectrum available by 2015, and 500 MHz available by the end of 2020.
The good news is that there is time to be rational about adding new physical resources, and reason to be optimistic that changes in user behavior, new ways of adding capacity and retail packaging will encourage users to offload traffic.
Edited by Braden Becker