The Dangers of Spectrum Crunch

by Reihan Salam

Among other things, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s recent address on pro-growth policy measures included a reference to the federal government’s profligate approach to spectrum management, a subject that the management theorist Larry Downes addressed in January. Even as mobile network operators invest in improving the quality of wireless service, new smartphones and tablets, and new consumer applications, keep pushing us towards a “spectrum crunch“:

Former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell underscored that concern, noting that 80 percent of the most useful spectrum is currently in the hands of the federal government users, including the Department of Defense. Their reluctance to part with it, he said, would continue to push product and network designers to achieve better spectral efficiency to preserve network performance.

According to the 2010 NBP, mobile users will require an additional 300MHz of spectrum by 2015, and 500MHz by 2020. Additional data traffic of the Internet of Things, which could someday dwarf current applications, was mentioned only in passing.

But even as current uses have skyrocketed since the publication of the plan, almost no new spectrum has been made available for mobile networks.

If Rubio’s proposal succeeds in relieving spectrum crunch, it will do much to encourage the continued growth of the app economy.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.