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Jul 9, 2019

Smarter and More Efficient: How America’s Wireless Industry Maximizes Its Spectrum .

Smarter and More Efficient: How America’s Wireless Industry Maximizes Its Spectrum document cover

Executive Summary

The wireless industry is always looking for more spectrum to meet the growing demand for mobile data, power the connectivity that creates jobs and grows the economy, and sustain the networks that hundreds of millions of Americans rely upon every day.

But as the industry works with policymakers and federal agencies to find new spectrum to bring to market, wireless providers are also investing heavily to make more efficient use of the spectrum holdings they have today.

Spectral efficiency is not an academic exercise for U.S. wireless providers. It’s essential. Facing a hockey stick increase of mobile data growth, wireless providers must look at all strategies to increase network capacity—incorporating new, more efficient wireless technologies into their networks and deploying densified infrastructure.

In the past five years, the number of wireless subscribers has increased more than 25 percent. Subscribers are using more mobile data: the average smartphone user now exceeds 6.5 GBs a month, up from 1.1 GBs five years ago.

As 5G is deployed, the demands on wireless networks are only going to increase. 5G will enable a massive increase in the number of wirelessly-connected devices, and the significant increase in 5G network speeds will drive further increases in data across wireless networks.

Facing this explosion in mobile data traffic, wireless providers have taken aggressive efforts to maximize their limited spectrum resources. As Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said, “[T]here are billions of dollars going into spectrum efficiency every day.”2 The reason is simple: efficient use of industry’s spectrum resources is critical to consumers’ mobile experience.

Spectrum efficiency has also been a hallmark of the U.S. focus on flexible, exclusive-use licensing—a framework that has driven America’s wireless leadership. The FCC has recognized that exclusive-use licensed bands are often the most intensively used and serve as a “runway” for the launch of innovation services.3 Indeed, it was on exclusively-licensed spectrum that the industry migrated to digital mobile, evolved from 2G to 3G service, and produced global leadership by the U.S. in 4G—and now is leading the world in 5G.

Just recently, President Trump set a goal that the U.S. should “have more 5G spectrum than any other country in the world” by 2020. While we work with policymakers to answer that call, the industry continues to take steps to be smarter and more efficient with our spectrum holdings. Specifically, the industry is working to refarm existing spectrum, quickly deploy new spectrum assets, and upgrade to new generations of wireless networks, all while deploying denser wireless infrastructure and other techniques that enhance spectral efficiency.

Wireless providers will continue to make efficient use of spectrum assets in order to ensure they deliver the wireless experience that consumers demand—and help ensure we continue the lead the world in 5G. Going forward, all spectrum users will need to increase their own efforts to be good stewards of this limited natural resource.

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.

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