Spectrum, Tower Siting and Antennas

Key Points

  • Mobile technology is nearly ubiquitous in the U.S., as American wireless carriers’ networks are the most advanced in the world. In order to expand on the anywhere, anytime connectivity, the wireless industry needs access to more licensed spectrum, towers and antennas to fuel the virtuous cycle of innovation.
    • Spectrum: Since it’s a finite and valuable resource, all spectrum holders must use their bands for the best and highest purposes. Numerous independent and government reports prove there are some users, such as government and television broadcasters that have large bands of unused and underutilized spectrum. Since there are significant positive economic impacts that spectrum auctions would generate for the government and our nation’s economy through more jobs, investment and innovation, it is clear why spectrum auctions are supported by President Obama, bipartisan members of Congress, FCC Commissioners, NTIA Administrator and other policymakers.
    • Towers: To enhance coverage, increase capacity, decrease network load and enhance spectral efficiency, expedient tower siting is necessary.
      • Shot clock: Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a declaratory ruling which set a "shot clock" (90 days for collocation and 150 days for new tower construction) for local zoning authorities to act on tower siting requests in November 2009. If local zoning authorities do not meet the time frames, they will be presumed to have "failed to act" and tower applicants' have the right to appeal to the courts for action. In addition, a zoning authority may not deny an application filed by one provider based on the presence of another wireless provider in a particular area.
      • Temporary towers: In order to improve capacity during major events (e.g., Presidential Inauguration, major sporting events, etc.), temporary towers may be deployed. Previously, in order to get these temporary towers placed, there was a laborious process to get approval. Thankfully, the FCC adopted a rule that would help speed the temporary infrastructure deployment in September 2013.
    • Antennas: Key to transmitting and receiving radiofrequency (RF) signals, antennas are usually camouflaged and vary in sizes and shapes. Even though antennas are already on a building, tree, water tower or other tall structure, some local zoning authorizations are delaying applications for years. CTIA believes it’s important the FCC streamlines the siting process so that consumers have continued access to wireless broadband networks.

CTIA Position

There are more wireless devices in the U.S. than Americans today, but several independent analysts and researchers predict that this number of mobile technology will grow exponentially within the next few years thanks to the “Internet of Things.”

Even though U.S. wireless companies are the world's most efficient commercial spectrum users, more licensed spectrum will be needed to meet the current rate of industry growth and consumer and business demand for wireless broadband.

  • Mobile data traffic in the U.S. will be 687 times greater in 2017 than it was in 2007.1
  • North America will have the fastest growth in mobile devices and connections with 13 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2012 to 2017.2
  • In 2017, a 4G connection will generate eight times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection.3

In order to meet this demand, CTIA and its members are advocating for more licensed spectrum. Since some spectrum band holders have underutilized or unused spectrum, it’s logical to move those users and auction the finite and valuable spectrum.

In the meantime, wireless carriers are investing billions of dollars – and at record amounts – to enhance their networks and make use of the spectrum they previously purchased at auction by adding more towers and antennas to improve coverage and capacity, but these are merely short-term solutions to the anticipated data usage explosion. In addition, the carrier investments are only the beginning of the “virtuous cycle” of significant economic benefit that spectrum auctions would have in the U.S. since device manufacturers and apps and content creators would be driven to develop new offerings to take advantage of the networks increased speeds, capabilities and capacity.

Thanks to the investments by the U.S. wireless companies, Americans enjoy the world’s best wireless industry.

  • The U.S. is home to less than five percent of the world’s wireless users, but we have more than 50 percent of the world’s 4G/LTE subscribers.4
  • In 2012, wireless carriers invested more than $30 billion in networks, which was a nine percent increase from the previous year. It also represented 25 percent of the global wireless investment in the same time period and more than the entire EU combined.

Yet our leadership in 4G (and 5G, 6G, 7G, etc.) will be challenged unless the wireless industry has access to more licensed spectrum. Considering other countries, including those in the EU such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, are allocating large bands of licensed spectrum for commercial wireless use because they see the tremendous benefits wireless broadband offers Americans. While they try to catch up, the U.S. wireless companies want to stay ahead.

Previous spectrum auctions (700 MHz and AWS) raised approximately $30 billion for the U.S. Treasury. Historically, data shows that for every 10 MHz of licensed spectrumPDF icon:

  • U.S. GDP increases by $1.739 billion
  • U.S. employment increases by at least 7,000
  • Government revenues increase by $468 million
  • Wireless service provider revenues increase by $1.924 billion

Thankfully, the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, endorsed by President Obama, identified 500 MHz of spectrum to be made commercially available by 2020. The plan, released in March 2010, also stated 300 MHz out of the 500 MHz is to be made available by 2015.

The economic impact of bringing the NBP’s 500 MHz of spectrum to market by 2020PDF icon is at least:

  • $166 billion increase for the U.S. GDP
  • 350,000 new U.S. jobs
  • $23.4 billion in government revenues
  • $13.1 billion in wireless apps and content sales

That’s why CTIA and its member companies continue to advocate for more licensed spectrum. It’s a win for consumers, businesses and government.

Major actions on this important issue include:

1. Cisco, Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017, February 2013, available at http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-520862.html
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Didier Scemama, “Global Wireless CapEx: Increase 2013 Forecast by 7%,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch, January 6, 2013

Last Updated: November 2013

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