Determining if There is a Spectrum Shortage

Those of us who have been in the wireless space for years take for granted that there is a spectrum shortage but the New York Times had a compelling story discussing how spectrum sharing and smart antennas will help alleviate the problem. They even have a quote from David P. Reed saying that radio frequencies are not finite.

TMC’s Peter Bernstein disagrees with this last point and has some interesting thoughts on the matter worth reading.

To me the debate is fascinating and is similar to arguing if we have run out of space on the island of Manhattan. On the one hand it has been built up to capacity except perhaps a few parks and other areas. But on the other hand, we can continue to purchase, knock down and build taller buildings to add more capacity.

But if New York land was spectrum, whenever a taller building is constructed, some of the units would be forced to go to competing landlords. This is the spectrum sharing argument playing out for tenants.

So in other words we don’t have a spectrum shortage but we don’t have a system in place which uses the spectrum we have most efficiently.

Moreover, the incentives aren’t there for us to get there any time soon.

Interestingly there could be free market solutions to this problem – carriers could allow users to roam on their networks easily if they chose to do so but what reason does Verizon have to share its resources when it has such a great network. Or AT&T for that matter? Especially when Sprint and T-Mobile USA are currently lagging in share.

In a more competitive market where market share was more equal I wonder if there would be more willingness to share. Probably so.

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