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Crowded US Airwaves Desperately In Search of Spectrum Breathing Room 105

alphadogg writes "Ahead of a major new spectrum auction scheduled for next year, America's four major wireless carriers are jockeying for position in the frequencies available to them, buying, selling and trading licenses to important parts of the nation's airwaves. Surging demand for mobile bandwidth, fueled by an increasingly saturated smartphone market and data-hungry apps, has showed no signs of slowing down. This, understandably, has the wireless industry scrambling to improve its infrastructure in a number of areas, including the amounts of raw spectrum available to the carriers. These shifts, however, are essentially just lateral moves – nothing to directly solve the problems posed by a crowded spectrum. What's really going to save the wireless world, some experts think, is a more comprehensive re-imagining of the way spectrum is used."
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Crowded US Airwaves Desperately In Search of Spectrum Breathing Room

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  • C-SPAN (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:30AM (#46343205) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, I was listening to C-SPAN a couple days ago, and the military was talking about the possibility of freeing up a lot of its reserved spectrum for emergency use that rarely gets used as long as the commercial applications using it could be shunted aside in the case of an actual emergency.

    It was a pretty interesting talk, which dealt with the interaction of land, air, and space networks, and their different needs and adaptive capabilities.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We have never, ever, gotten spectrum back when we need it. I'm trying to test a new'ish radar, but I can't get the full spectrum allocation that we designed to because we've given it away to be "shared", but now apparently can never use it again. Do you have an extra $27M to redesign the antenna and get it flight qualified? That's just one system. At least we can still sort of test it; the european militaries have to come to the US to do any electronic warfare; they don't have any usable spectrum alloca

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @03:32AM (#46343217) Journal

    Steerable Null (alias DIDO or pCell) (the latter being steerable null with widely separated antennas) effectively multiplies the avaliable bandwidth by the number of base station antennas (by giving each remote a signal containig the full band's bandwidth directed to it, while the similar, simultaneous, signals to the other remotes cancel out).

    See the article from last week: New 'pCell' Technology Could Bring Next Generation Speeds To 4G Networks [].

    Some posters were wondering what would be the driver for adopting it. This is it: There's no more spectrum being made - but this is a way to use it simultaneously multiple times without interference between the reuses.

    • I don't really think that would help the military, since they'd be using their own towers with their own *encryption.
      The signals would still be stepping on each other, since they wouldn't be hooked into the same network of towers coordinating with each other.

      *Though they've been flying around drones in war zones with unencrypted feeds

    • I find myself wondering if it can be combined with MIMO. That would be very cool. Might not be practical on a handset (at least not at frequencies below 3GHz), because there is not enough space to put adequate separation between antennas, but it could work well with tablets and other physically larger devices.

      • I find myself wondering if it can be combined with MIMO. That would be very cool.

        It IS MIMO: the special case where:

        - The base station antennas are widely separated.

        - The data is mapped so each remote antenna gets a particular one-spectrum-channel-worth subset of the data stream (rather than several antennas getting several spectru-channels worth, but in the form of differently phased-and-weighted sums of several carriers with mixes of the data). This allows the remobe devices to work with

  • The solution is to build / install multiple mini-towers to replace large towers covering a larger area.

    Dialling down the transmit power of both the device and tower will reduce the congestion. With fewer devices on each tower, bandwidth will increase. Also, devices will require less transmit and receive power so their batteries will last longer. And when in a more rural setting with fewer devices, service providers can still go with a larger tower to cover more area.

    This is the only real solution bu

    • Exactly. That would require actual investment and work instead of just looking for an excuse to fuck people and pocket more.

      • Yeah, it would also double the cost of cell service. You'll just have to get used to getting most of your data needs from WiFi sources. I've got WiFi at home, work, most places I go to eat. That's the more small low power towers. They just aren't run by the cell companies. Actually, look for Comcast to become a major player in this space. They've been rolling out hardware to customers that functions as a WiFi hotspot for their other customers. It would be a small matter for them to adapt that for use

        • Suuuure it would, just like how it really does cost cell companies absurd amounts of money to include data in a section of the signal they already need to transmit...

    • Why don't they use the Smart meters attached to people's houses?
  • by David Jao ( 2759 ) <> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:08AM (#46343359) Homepage
    The solution is simple. We should move everything over to LTE. It's far more efficient than any other alternatives, often by several orders of magnitude. Deactivate the old legacy networks and switch to LTE for everything. []
    • LTE is already behind. But yes, in order to keep up with usage and utilization, more efficient communication methods are needed.
      That and the latest news from carriers seems to be their solution in fixing the problem will be to provide their base stations with greater banwidth to handle the LTE traffic. If anything that suggests that they're sitting on their ass raking in cash and being slow to react to their customer's demands. They can claim there isn't enough airwave bandwidth, but when their solution

  • If companies have paid billions for spectrum, then the last thing that they want is more to be allocated which will simply reduce the value of their asset. Tight spectrum means one can charge more for 4G, with less competition. There must be some fierce lobbying going on.

    Does anybody know how much spectrum below and above 1Gig (say) is actually available of telephony, in the USA and Australia? It seems like it is well under 10% of the available.
    • by Ozoner ( 1406169 )

      TV is by far the biggest user.

      If we had continued with a universal broad-band fiber network (aka NBN) it would have been possible to switch off free-to-air television.

      Of course big media was terrified of exactly that.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        And force everyone to pay monthly for all TV. Finally getting those damn freeloaders from watching TV for free.

  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:37AM (#46343457)

    Spectrum should be owned by the public and rented on an annual basis to the private sector to the highest bidder.

    This brings in competition that will keep companies from buying it and then sitting on their ass doing nothing with it.

    • It is that way already in the US. Cable co's leased lots of spectrum and sat on it. If it is cheaper than having to compete they will do it.

    • Instead of the highest bidder, why not making all infrastructure accessible, with cost associated to traffic and bonuses for the amount of work done on the infrastructure itself? Big players can stay big leveraging the amount of work done, little players can pop up everywhere, every hotspot can be configured to offer guest access, so airwaves are used for those actually travelling, all the rest get wifi to the nearest eth hub.

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:43AM (#46343475)

    Introduce a "use it or loose it" rule for spectrum allocations. Stop carriers from buying spectrum to sit on it or sell it around and around with no-one actually using it.

    • Sounds good. But what if they are creative? I could make a bs use case for spectrum. Compared to the cost of the spectrum itself, underutilizing it (or using it for a BS purpose) would be cheap.
  • So just like with wireline, why is this even a problem? Why don't we have a the government owning/controlling the entirety of the spectrum and have service providers simply provide service across ALL bands? Why are we chunking it up for private companies to "own"? It would seem to me that if all spectrum were available, everyone would win. More devices per tower, fewer towers needed, more competition in the marketplace. The simple fact that you have to be able to purchase spectrum to even join the game
    • Because, wires and wireless transmissions aren't the same. Commonly used wireless transmissions take up certain frequencies for certain distances, and basically nobody else can use those frequencies in that area then. Two wired transmissions can be run very close together without interfering nearly as much.
      • Your point being what? The wireless carriers today manage to provide service with the bands chunked up. Allowing more bands from a single tower simply means all those devices are consolidated onto less physical infrastructure, saving everybody money in the process.
  • Keep your grubby dirty filthy hands off of the Ham Bands.

    There is plenty for the commercial world to use, boo hoo they don't like paying for it, if you are making money off of the public airwaves, then you pay dearly for it. I just wish the FCC charged for the use of airwaves yearly to commercial entities. Huge parts of bands are unused but sat on for "future use" by commercial groups.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <gterich AT aol DOT com> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:50AM (#46344213) Journal

    Please take a look here: []

    Every block where you see "Amateur" _not_ in all CAPS, Amateur Radio is a secondary use and not the primary licensee. You can see that there are no blocks that are allocated primarily to Amateur use that would be useful to cellular carriers.

    420-450, 902-928, 1240-1300 are all government property that Amateurs are allowed to use provided they do not cause interference to the primary licensee.

    If government didn't have a use for that spectrum, it certainly would have been sold already - certainly before going through all the trouble to move OTA TV to HD and reclaiming that spectrum.

    Seriously, think logically for a minute. If the government could have opened up over 100Mhz of spectrum to cellular carriers by simply displacing a few hams, rather than upending the entire broadcast TV industry, that's the way it would have been done.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Yup. Hams don't really have all that much spectrum, especially in the regions everybody cares about (low enough in frequency that you don't get multipath/directionality, high enough that you don't need a backpack and whip antenna). Sure, there is some space that others could use, but it isn't all that much.

      I think a better solution is getting municipal wifi and such deployed so that people don't need huge gobs of data for when they're just sitting in one place or because they don't want to hand the local

    • Since when does the US military give up ANYTHING?
      They won't even give back the land they took from Japan and Germany during WWII, what makes you think they would give up something as valuable as radio frequencies.?

  • I just upgraded my wifi to a dual-band base station so that I could use some of that sweet 5GHz space. I live in a suburban neighborhood (built in the '70s, so not even one of those super-cramped Krap Box neighborhoods they make these days) and I can see at least eight other SSIDs at any time.

    After all, I've gotta watch those ATSC .ts streams from my MythTV on my laptop.

  • I wish there was some way to unify the spectrum used by carriers so there wasn't so much wasted spectrum. With 4 major cell carriers you need 4x the spectrum for any given footprint.

    Why can't this same total spectrum be used by all the carriers simultaneously, with some kind of back-end accounting determining what proportion of the tower costs are paid by each carrier, depending on subscriber mix?

    • Why can't this same total spectrum be used by all the carriers simultaneously, with some kind of back-end accounting determining what proportion of the tower costs are paid by each carrier

      That's sort of how MVNOs already work: one of the big four carriers owns the spectrum and the towers, and a bunch of smaller carriers lease them.

  • The jury may still be out on this due to it's claims of 'unlimited', etc. But have a look: []

    As a colleague once opined, "There is no more spectrum. It's physics. That's it, that's all."

  • Is there a region this spectrum is not digital? We could likely fit a thousand digital stations in that same airspace.

    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      AM broadcast spectrum is about 1 MHz, or about 3.5 Mbps using typical digital modulations. AM antennas need to be very long to be very efficient, so realistic mobile devices may only get 1 Mbps or less. Also AM propagates easily, so it will be tough to have small cells with reasonably powered transmitters.

      FM is about 20 MHz, or about 70 Mbps theoretically. They also have a long wavelength, but not anywhere as bad as AM, but worse than TV channels 7-13.

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