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American Cellular Companies Clamor For Fresh Spectrum 103

Posted by timothy
from the remember-to-blame-the-free-market dept.
alphadogg writes "No one will ever say that America's wireless carriers are too proud to beg. This year's Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association Wireless trade show in New Orleans seemed less like an industry gathering at times and more like an infomercial dedicated to forcing the government's hand to free up more spectrum. Start with CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent, who dedicated the vast majority of his introductory keynote address to discussing the challenges carriers will face if they don't get fresh spectrum to use within the next few years. Execs from T-Mobile, Verizon and others also beat the drum. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead, for example, said: 'Innovation is at risk today due to the spectrum shortage that we face. If additional spectrum is not available in the near-term, mobile data will exceed capacity by 2015.'"
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American Cellular Companies Clamor For Fresh Spectrum

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  • by Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @05:40AM (#39977541)
    Once you reach capacity, you've reached capacity, you can't go any higher than that
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm already pulled over! I can't pull over any farther!

    • by Targon (17348) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @06:12AM (#39977631)

      Demand exceeds capacity, not use exceeds capacity.

      • Demand == offer. How can it exceed capacity?

    • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @06:42AM (#39977695)

      Once you reach capacity, you've reached capacity, you can't go any higher than that

      Yeah, but the US carriers are doing it wrong. How is it that with the same or less bandwidth available, carriers in Europe and Canada are able to deal with the same or higher subscriber density?

      No, really. Look at the cellular spectrum situation in a country like Germany or France, and look at the number of complaints you hear about dropped calls or not enough speed available in Berlin or Paris. You don't hear about it at all.

      Canada may have a smaller population, but there's really only four cellular networks in Toronto, which is in the top five biggest cities in North America, and probably 90% of the subscribers are using one of two networks: Rogers and Bell. And those two networks are using the same frequencies and technologies. (well, the Bell network has sympathetic CDMA/HSPA, but they're 3 years into a switch over to 100% HSPA, and most of their customers already have HSPA devices). We're talking more than 2 million cell phones in a geographic area not much bigger than the city of Washington, DC, not to mention the commuters who aren't actually counted as part of Toronto's population, and they're *all* using 850/1900 HPSA, and yet somehow the carriers aren't complaining that there's not enough bandwidth.

      No. It's not that there's not enough bandwidth available in the US, it's that the carriers are doing it wrong.

      (and my apologies to our European friends, but I live in Canada, and work in the telecomm industry, so I speak about what I know).

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Stewie241 (1035724)

        I can't speak for Europe, but my impression is that data transfer is a lot more expensive here than it is in the US. From AT&T in the US $30 gets you a 3 gig data plan where in Canada that same $30 gets you a 1 gig data plan.

        For the same spend in the US you get three times the data capacity.

        So if by doing it wrong you mean the carriers in the US are not charging as much, then you're right.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Europe isn't one country. There are countries with ridiculously cheap mobile access, countries where mobile access costs an arm and a leg, and countries in-between.

          In Austria, you can get 1000 minutes, 1000 SMS and "unlimited" data for 10EUR/month (drei.at Superphone L) or the same limited to 2GB of data pay-as-you-go.

          France just got a new competitor which is stirring up the market: Free.fr offers 3GB, unlimited calls to many destinations, unlimited SMS within France and up to 3GB data for 16EUR/month.

          In Ge

          • by glomph (2644) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @09:07AM (#39978185) Homepage Journal

            Totally correct; In Germany it's 3GB on a no-contract no-commitment prepaid SIM for €20/mo. (if you go over, you still get service, but 56k-ish speeds)
            This is on the Deutsche Telekom network, probably the best in that market.

            MORE importantly, in lower-use cases, you can get 200MB/500MB/1GB for €8/10/13 per month. Most users in the US really use little data, and have to pay out the ass for mandatory 'data plans'. This is where the real theft is in this FreedomLand scam.

            • In Germany it's 3GB on a no-contract no-commitment prepaid SIM for €20/mo. (if you go over, you still get service, but 56k-ish speeds) This is on the Deutsche Telekom network, probably the best in that market.

              Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile here in the US has a no-contract plan through their website [t-mobile.com] that's fairly similar: it's US$30/month for 100 min talk + 5GB data at 4G speed, then 56k-ish speeds after that. All of the other plans I've been able to find cost 2-3 times as much to allow smartphones, and most only include 50-200 megs of data usage with high per-kilobyte charges beyond it, and many now include wifi & Google Talk use in counting towards included data/minutes.

              I sure hope T-Mobile decides to stick w

        • http://koodomobile.com/en/on/datasaver.shtml [koodomobile.com]

          Flex data plan, you pay for what you actually use. (within predefined tiers). $20 gets you 1GB, and $30 gets you 3GB. The big three expect you to take it without a lube, but all three of them have fight brands which are much more reasonably priced... Koodo (linked), for example, is owned by Telus. As it's owned by Telus, it's on the Bellus network, and has the same coverage as either Bell/Telus. They also offer nationwide long distance at no extra cost on all of t

        • That doesn't have anything to do with what "realityimpaired" was talking about, but that's okay.
          • Perhaps I'm daft and just don't understand what you mean. GP was talking about data usage as a function of subscriber density. Required bandwidth depends on more than just the number if subscribers per unit area. It also depends on how much data each of those subscribers use. I would presume that since data is three times as expensive as it is in the US that data usage per subscriber would be lower. That should (although it is admittedly not a simple relationship as it depends on human behaviour) mean

      • by Fished (574624)

        So, are you suggesting that the free market is not the best way to parcel out a scarce, public resource? That ... ahem ... perhaps this is a natural monopoly and the consumer is best protected through (gasp!) regulation!

        Dude, good thing your Canadian. If you were an American, the Republicans would be calling you a Marxist about now.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by CrackedButter (646746)

          you're

          • by Anonymous Coward

            your an asshole.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              My brother has a T-shirt that says "Your a moron". Most people think it's funny. But one day he was accosted in a shop by a very angry man who was practically frothing at the mouth shouting "No, no, you're the fucking moron". It was the moment the T-shirt was created for.

        • by khallow (566160)

          So, are you suggesting that the free market is not the best way to parcel out a scarce, public resource? That ... ahem ... perhaps this is a natural monopoly and the consumer is best protected through (gasp!) regulation!

          The article says there are four companies in the business in the US. Four is greater than one and hence, is not a monopoly. A monopoly, whether natural or not, requires that there be no competitors.

          • Four is greater than one and hence, is not a monopoly.

            What you say is technically true. But four do form a cartel, and a lot of the same competition laws that apply to monopolies apply just as much to cartels.

            • by khallow (566160)
              But let us recall that cartels behave differently than monopolies. The whole point of the distinction between monopoly and oligopoly is that the latter is not just some sort of little monopoly. It is substantially different. Competition even between few mostly colluding parties creates dynamics that aren't found in monopolies.
        • by Teancum (67324)

          The problem here is with the notion that a free market is being used at all. That commercial entities are being involved should not confuse you with the idea that it is a free market where anybody can compete.

          In the case of cell phone transmitters, I can't slap together a Linux box with some ham radio equipment and build a hobby cell phone tower without a ton of paperwork and the FCC breathing down my neck... assuming that there might even be remotely a way for me to have a prayer to get even a small slice

        • You don't understand what "monopoly" means. Natural monopolies are things that involve serious disruption to construct - distribution of power, water, sewer, natural gas, cable television, and copper/fiber all fall into that category. Cellular service, generally, doesn't involve tearing up the streets or running a bunch more wires overhead. And even when there's a natural monopoly in distribution, there's not necessarily a natural monopoly in production (although the accounting is really hard).

          The question
      • Maybe the reason canada doesn't have a bandwidth problem is because Rogers and Bell gouge us so hard on pricing that nobody can afford to use the bandwidth they might like to with their mobile devices.
        • Maybe the reason canada doesn't have a bandwidth problem is because Rogers and Bell gouge us

          In other words, the market is working in Canada. There is no shortage because airtime is being priced correctly to make the quantity demanded meet the relatively fixed supply.

          • We have a government granted duopoly though, not a free market. In a free market, presumably the spectrum would be used at its full capacity, and priced as high as the market would bear.
      • Bandwidth per subscriber is a function of radio bandwidth (fixed) and cellphone node size. If you halve the radius of a cellphone node you x4 the bandwidth per phone. US phones are cheaper because they don't shrink their nodes.
      • Yeah, but the US carriers are doing it wrong. How is it that with the same or less bandwidth available, carriers in Europe and Canada are able to deal with the same or higher subscriber density?

        If you put more towers out there, each one less powerful, you increase the total bandwidth. But that takes investiment from the part of the carriers, and they can't do that, can they?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2012 @07:36AM (#39977829)

      I know this is difficult for most people to understand fully, but there are some pretty serious risks involved when exceeding the capacity of a wireless transmission medium. Although you can't see or feel them, the wireless network is made up of millions of miles of thin, flexible tubing, each called a "wireless spectrum". These wireless spectra run through the air, across our great nation, and around the world. In short, they're everywhere. They're above your house, they're inside your house, they're even next to you as you read this.

      Like any tubing, it has an internal pressure threshold. The tubing walls are somewhat elastic, so they can take a slight amount of excessive data. But if you start exceeding the threshold significantly, and over a prolonged period of time, the tube could split, or even completely burst.

      I shouldn't have to tell you about the dangers of a split or burst wireless spectra tube. If the data valve in the server room isn't switched off soon enough after a leak or a break, massive amounts of data may leak out of the damaged wireless spectra. While it's annoying to have your phone call dropped, or to have your Internet connection go down, the pollution caused by this leaking data is the biggest concern of all.

      While purely telephonic data is easy to clean up if leaked, Internet data leakage or spills are a much bigger problem. This Internet data can be a very vile mixture of smut, gore, and atheism. So with more and more people using the Internet on their wireless devices, the data content flowing through the existing wireless spectra is extremely toxic and dangerous to handle.

      I fully support increasing the size of the wireless spectra tubing, as well as the wall thickness. We have to do whatever it takes to prevent the environmental and social destruction that could be caused by even a single wireless spectra bursting or breaking. No expense should be spared to ensure the safety of our great country and its people.

    • by durrr (1316311)

      Mobile data in this case means "my ridiculous annual bonus".
      "Innovation" means the "bi-annual yacht purchase and opulent coke, whores and champagne party"

    • Is this a joke? You can have unlimited capacity it all depends on power.

      If the cell phone companies were willing to put up cell towers we wouldnt have this spectrum crunch. How else can cell phones work well in airports and places of high density, like football stadiums etc. Surely an airport like JFK has a lot of cell phone users yet I get decent coverage there. All they have to do is increase the number of towers will reducing the output signal strength. Cell phones were designed for that very purpose. Th

  • by TWX (665546) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @05:41AM (#39977547)
    I would like to know how efficiently they're using what they've got, and from someone who isn't them or paid by them. A lot of companies build for new features and a rapid release schedule rather than for efficiency.
    • Re:Efficiency (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rusty0101 (565565) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @06:29AM (#39977667) Homepage Journal

      At some point it will depend on your definition of efficiency.

      At the moment none of the four major carriers in the US are using common protocols and frequencies for G3 service and above. They may be using some frequencies in common, or some protocols in common, but to differentiate their services, they don't use common protocols. A side effect of this is that you can take a walk with three other people, each of you using a different provider's phone, and walk through almost any major metro area, and see different carriers signal levels fluctuating all over the place. It's nearly impossible to roam on other carriers services, and almost no-one is providing general coverage service outside of major metro areas. In some parts of the US, you are better off having an Iridium phone than anything from a cellular carrier.

      Yes, each carrier is working hard to provide solid coverage in the metro areas, but it's not going to happen. The frequencies that provide the best reach into where the customer is are either already in use, or don't have sufficient capacity for high bandwidth. 700mhz may seem like a magic bullet, but remember that a TV channel has about enough bandwidth for 45 mbps, one way, and to spread that across 100 customers for a cell (or worse) means that no-one is going to see 500 kbps, or less than 60kB/s. To get higher throughput, you have to go to higher frequencies. And higher frequencies don't reach into buildings as well. Great coverage out on the street, perhaps, but that reflective surface on the window to keep the temperature down in the glass building does a serious number on signal reception.

      And since 800mhz analog has been eliminated, there are a lot of towers across the US that it just didn't make economic sense to convert to digital service. That may start changing if the FCC mandates that the only way that they are going to open more spectrum is if there is broader distribution of coverage across the US. But I'm not going to hold my breath for that. I figure the likelyhood of that is right up there with the FCC mandating that US carriers all start using common protocols and allow users to use any new phone on the market with any carrier, at the phone's best transfer rate. I just don't see it happening.

      • Mostly accurate, but...

        ...remember that a TV channel has about enough bandwidth for 45 mbps, one way, and to spread that across 100 customers for a cell (or worse) means that no-one is going to see 500 kbps, or less than 60kB/s.

        Unless everyone is using the network 100% of the time, it doesn't work like that. The nature of demand based networks allows for significant over-subscription while still delivering decent performance. Peak times may slow when you actually have many simultaneously active users. What you need to manage is that you have enough capacity to unsure that you maintain adequate performance during 95%-99% of peak demand periods, with much better performance during lower demand periods.

        • What you need to manage is that you have enough capacity to unsure that you maintain adequate performance during 95%-99% of peak demand periods

          And with services that require high throughput sustained for long periods, such as Netflix VOD and OnLive gaming, demand during peak demand periods is likely to increase over time. If it is not feasible to increase capacity, such as if NIMBYs are blocking new towers, the only way to maintain adequate performance is to reduce the quantity demanded during these peak demand periods. As price goes up, quantity demanded goes down; hence the price gouging.

      • by jbolden (176878)

        It's nearly impossible to roam on other carriers services,

        The problem with roaming is that carriers charge each other high roaming fees. So for carriers to offer roaming in any fair / efficient way they have to pass through fees, fees high enough that they sting. Customers hate being charged roaming fees and think their carrier is ripping them off, even if they are just passing through costs.

        Why should carriers provide a service from which they often lose money that antagonizes their customers?

  • Is it not possible to make the cell sites closer together? Or would this require actual capital investment on the side of the carriers?

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @06:32AM (#39977675)

    Howabout the people elected to look out for the public interest take this opportunity to make sure that the lessons of the last decade or so are applied to any new spectrum licenses?

    After all, if these businesses are desperate for what we have, we should use that leverage to negotiate the best possible deal. I'm thinking real net neutrality (not neutered neutrality), better inter-carrier interoperability (like all new spectrum must be used for only one type of signalling, say GSM only) and lets throw in a requirement that all phones which operate on the new spectrum can not be carrier-locked either. And that's in addition to what Google was able to wrangle on the last spectrum auction which required that the wireless telcos must also accept 3rd parrty devices on their networks.

    • Who do you think paid for the people who got elected to those positions?

    • by jbolden (176878)

      What carrier doesn't offer net neutrality at this point. Sometimes their customer facing services which essentially buys services from the wholesale has some forms of internet restrictions to boost revenue and that's an example of troublesome fees and surcharges that are part of American retail pricing. That's not really specific to cell phones. Their wholesale divisions certainly don't care.

      As for not carrier locking phones. Phones in the USA are mostly paid for through large subsidies.

      • What carrier doesn't offer net neutrality at this point.

        Then it should be really easy for them to agree to it, right?

        As for not carrier locking phones. Phones in the USA are mostly paid for through large subsidies.

        Red herring. Contracts can take care of making sure the subsidy is paid back - just like they make sure you pay even if you simply cancel and stop using the phone altogether. The point is that some carriers won't unlock phones that are paid off because it suits them to make your phone useless if you want to go to another carrier even though you've fullfilled your part of the bargain.

        • by jbolden (176878)

          JB: What carrier doesn't offer net neutrality at this point.
          JWR: Then it should be really easy for them to agree to it, right?

          Well yeah. It would also be easy for them to agree to having their staff be oxygen breathing. Generally though if you make a demand the demand is for something that the other party either isn't doing or doesn't intend to continue doing.

          Red herring. Contracts can take care of making sure the subsidy is paid back - just like they make sure you pay even if you simply cancel

          • But you are thinking about the phone from a customer perspective.

            Well excuse me for thinking about what's best for the people who own the spectrum.

            • by jbolden (176878)

              Well excuse me for thinking about what's best for the people who own the spectrum.

              What's best for the people who own the spectrum is that things run smoothly for the carriers so they can pay treasury huge license fees for lots of spectrum.

  • Theres plenty of unused spectrum higher up, UV, X-ray, gamma ray...

    • Theres plenty of unused spectrum higher up, UV, X-ray, gamma ray...

      If we started to use those spectrums then the TSA would take advantage of it and make us put their app on our phones so they could scan us 24/7.

    • IF they reduce the signal strength, all they have to do is increase the number of cell phone towers and they can support more users. Cell phone technology automatically does this (it being the whole purpose of cell phones and all) .. so they don't even need new types of cell phones or towers. Spectrum crunch is easily solved.

      Oh wait, it'll never work because it involves them spending money on infrastructure. Much easier to beg for spectrum and establish a monopoly.

      • Oh wait, it'll never work because it involves them spending money on infrastructure.

        How would you recommend getting past NIMBY residents who complain to the city that they don't want to live near a big ugly tower and get brain cancer?

  • I get the feeling the cell phone companies would love to all be on completely different frequencies with completely different protocols. Instead of having 5-band or 6 band phones that work everywhere, The phones manufacturers would have to give up and make phones that only work on ATT's version of 4G and nothing else.

  • Surely we have learned by now to be very, very skeptical of any claim by a wireless carrier?

    At least is seems that some are not parroting what they are told.
    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/NY-Times-Actually-Bothers-to-Question-Spectrum-Crisis-119397 [dslreports.com]

  • Verizon (Score:5, Informative)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Saturday May 12, 2012 @09:13AM (#39978237)
    It has been reported before that Verizon Wireless and AT&T are both begging for spectrum while they are currently holding spectrum that they haven't even used yet! This sounds like they want to grab as much as possible only to crowd others out of the market. The CTIA is an industry lobby group and is not there to benefit the consumer no matter how much they claim to benefit both.
    • Shhh! That's supposed to be a secret. Just because they hold licenses (for which they paid billions of dollars) to spectrum they're not using doesn't mean they're inhibiting competition or limiting availability, they're just "planning for the future".

      • by ToddInSF (765534)
        And that future of claiming there's a shortage of spectrum that they are not even utilizing is now.
    • It is only good business... why would you wait until you are screwed to do anything about it? It is far better to grab spectrum and use up what you have until you can get more, than force yourself to stop providing until you can expand. Telcoms might be evil, but they aren't idiots.
  • Drop Edge/2G and put a new and faster technology in its place, or give up that block of spectrum and ask for a different block. At least that is what Sprint is doing with iDEN by re-purposing it and its about time.
  • IF they reduce the signal strength, all they have to do is increase the number of cell phone towers and they can support more users. Cell phone technology automatically does this (it being the whole purpose of cell phones and all) .. so they don't even need new types of cell phones or towers. Spectrum crunch is easily solved.
    Oh wait, it'll never work because it involves them spending money on infrastructure. Much easier to beg for spectrum and establish a monopoly.

  • You want more bandwidth? That's cool. So does everybody else. FCC should be auctioning off *every* section of commercial spectrum on a rotating 5-10 year cycle. If the cell phone companies can outbid the TV stations, goodbye Channel 13.

    (By "commercial spectrum", I mean stuff not reserved by FCC for government, scientific, or amateur use, or bound by global treaty.)

    • by jbolden (176878)

      The carriers would be thrilled. That's what the carriers want. They want to free up parts of the spectrum that provide little benefit (like High Def Television). They are perfectly willing to pay

  • We can double your bandwidth overnight. You will all agree to use the following, single communication type on all headsets. You all share identical spectrum and there shall be no more than one carrier will be allowed per tower.

    You shall separate your infrastructure operations from your carrying operations and form state specific operation from your disperse groups. You will be required to have basic coverage over the entire landmass except where geographical features make it impracticable. Your infrastruct

  • If the carriers did not strong-arm people into buying data plans, they would not be running out of capacity. According to this survey (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2404086,00.asp) 50.4% of Americans with cell phone service have smartphones. Nearly every one has a data plan because all of the major carriers, except for T-Mobile, require it for smartphone users, and T-Mobile does not make it well known that you can avoid the data plan charges.

    Considering today's economy, given the choice, many pe
  • What does wanting more spectrum have to do with bandwidth issues? It is obvious, to me at least, that they want the additional spectrum for ownership and nothing more. They know it exists. The last thing the want is someone else getting to first. Or worse. It being handed to the public!

    • by jbolden (176878)

      They are perfectly willing to pay very large usage fees to the treasury each year. That's handing value to the public.

  • Every article I see about spectrum is vague....like "Pepsi is thinking of buying land in New Jersey". We never hear which bands of frequencies the company in question covets, who has it, or what, specifically they intend to do with it. How hard is it to put in the specific channels/frequencies in articles...this drives me nuts...OK, I am a ham, and have some idea what/where the frequencies are, but article after article omits what is being sought and or fought over.
  • Follow the money. Remember how SCO couldn't compete with free linux, and tried to shut it down? Well, the IPTV and cableco and satellite providers are trying to the shut down free OTA TV so they can charge an arm and a leg for their services. Follow the money...
    * USA AT&T has Uverse
    * USA Verizon has FIOS
    * Canada Rogers has Rogers Cable
    * Canada BCE has Bell Fibe and Bell satellite

    But people like me, in and around major cities, can get 10 to 20 or more channels of free legal OTA TV. And OTA high-definitio

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