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July 9, 2019

Demand for Wireless Requires More and Efficient Use of Spectrum .

Demand for Wireless Requires More and Efficient Use of Spectrum

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Tom Sawanobori
Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer

Every year, America’s wireless networks handle more data traffic. Last year alone, Americans used 82% more mobile data than the prior year, thanks in part to consumers’ growing use of video. We talk a lot about our need for more spectrum to meet this demand, and we certainly do need a lot more spectrum. We don’t talk as much about what we are doing with the spectrum we already have to deliver better and more efficient services to Americans.

Wireless providers invest in their networks and new technologies to increase the efficiency of their spectrum holdings. Thanks to those efforts, America’s wireless providers have become 42 times more efficient since 2010 as detailed in a new white paper released today.

Increasingly Efficient: Handling More Wireless Traffic with Commercial Spectrum Assets

On a MBs/MHz basis, U.S. wireless providers have increased their spectrum efficiency by a factor of 42 since 2010. The purple bubbles represent the amount of wireless data handled by wireless providers divided by the amount of licensed spectrum wireless providers have had access to over the last eight years.
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On a MBs/MHz basis, U.S. wireless providers have increased their spectrum efficiency by a factor of 42 since 2010. The purple bubbles represent the amount of wireless data handled by wireless providers divided by the amount of licensed spectrum wireless providers have had access to over the last eight years.

Our paper highlights all the ways that wireless providers increase their spectral efficiency:

  • Investing heavily in new technologies and deploying cell sites and infrastructure, which increases network capacity and improves spectrum reuse.
  • Refarming existing spectrum, or repurposing it block-by-block, to more efficient generations of wireless—for example by transitioning any remaining 2G spectrum to 4G use.
  • Quickly deploying any new spectrum by rapidly installing new radios and antennas on cell sites and partnering closely with handset manufacturers to ensure the right technologies are operational to transmit the new spectrum.

These efforts have helped U.S. providers serve over 589,000 subscribers for each megahertz of available spectrum—more than twice that of Japan, three and a half times that of Germany and four times that of the U.K. Our spectral efficiency is essential to meeting wireless demand and supporting the needs of a country that relies on wireless to create jobs and power our economy.

And this will get even better with 5G. Upgrading networks to 5G, which will use the latest technologies, as well as larger spectrum blocks and signal beamforming, will give us the most efficient generation of spectrum to date.

But our good stewardship of existing spectrum resources isn’t enough to support the wireless demands of tomorrow or maintain our global wireless leadership. We need more licensed, commercial spectrum to do that. And the exclusive- and flexible-use policies that enabled our efficient use of wireless spectrum today will continue to be essential as the wireless industry prepares to make the investments needed for 5G’s even greater efficiencies.

That’s why we’re asking for a National Spectrum Strategy later this month—one that fulfils the Trump Administration’s goals to give the “industry more freedom to innovate” and “reach the full potential that 5G offers.”

As the Administration formulates its spectrum approach, we recommend including:

  • A clear directive to lead the world in 5G spectrum and make available the low-, mid- and high-band spectrum needed to deliver on our 5G ambitions.
  • A firm recommitment to a federal spectrum policy of proven free-market approaches that harnesses the power of competition to enhance our nation’s economic and national security.
  • A clear vision for modernizing U.S. government approaches to spectrum management to benefit government wireless needs and encourage private sector development.
  • A schedule of future auctions that puts more spectrum in the hands of America’s wireless industry.

While we will continue to take steps to make the most efficient use of our spectrum assets, a National Spectrum Strategy is essential to helping us meet the needs of tomorrow’s wireless users and leading the world in 5G.

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