Can Spectrum Keep up with Newest Product Advances?

Can Spectrum Keep up with Newest Product Advances?


By David Honig, President and Executive Director, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council

The world is going mobile, and if we as a nation are to keep up, we need to ensure that ample spectrum is available to meet our growing needs. Apple’s new iPad is just the latest in a line of product advancements that is driving mobile broadband demand. Analysts predict that by the end of this year Apple will have sold 100 million iPads , and that’s just one product in an exploding mobile marketplace.

Ever since the first smartphones were sold in 2007, Americans have discovered the joys and even necessity of being connected to the Internet from anywhere and all the time. The newest products are bringing new, spectrum-intensive features that will add to consumer demand for fast mobile networks.

Movies and other video will look better than ever with new displays. As processing speed increases and mobile products utilize new 4G LTE networks, streaming video will become just as popular as watching TV on a home flat screen. Smartphone and tablet cameras are growing in capability.  Sending a high resolution photograph or an HD video a user has just shot to a social network or a group of friends will demand more mobile bandwidth.

The bottom line is that demand for mobile access will continue to explode. Global mobile data traffic grew 230 percent in 2011 over 2010. It took Americans 37 years to grow total traffic mileage that much.

African Americans and Latinos are at the leading edge of this demand. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, African Americans and Latinos use these mobile applications and functions more than white device owners use them. Pew’s latest survey shows that 56 percent of African American cell phone owners access the Internet, compared to 51 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of whites. African Americans and Hispanics are also are more likely to post a photo or video online or do online banking from their mobile phones or smart phones.

As handheld devices become more sophisticated, they may replace laptop and desktop computers for many people. That, too, is more likely to drive growth in demand for wireless connections at speeds sufficient for a wide range of computer activities.

This month’s new iPad announcement will be followed by something else in April, and May, and so on.  To meet this growing demand for mobile services, wireless companies will need more spectrum to build the networks of the future. Congress just directed the FCC to hold fair and open auctions for new wireless spectrum. The FCC should move quickly to put more spectrum to work so we won’t be sitting on hold as we use new mobile devices.

David Honig co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. Since 1983, Mr. Honig has also been engaged in the private practice of communications and civil rights law, representing national organizations, broadcasters and broadcast applicants.


  1. There is no way… under the current pace that the Commission is moving… that we'll have enough spectrum to keep up with innovation. As the stewards of communications, it's the Commission's duty to rectify that.

    • Exactly. The FCC needs to work harder and faster to keep up. Or low-income Americans will suffer as companies raise their prices to match limited supply with high demand.

  2. I am glad to see that the FCC is finally taking action and providing options for the wireless sector. This is a small step in the right direction.

  3. The Good News is that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are leading an important aspect of high tech! We should continue to look behind those numbers and push for broadband adoption at home, so that people are accessing the Internet via mobile devices out of choice and not out of economic necessity (i.e. because they cannot afford a home computer or home broadband connection). I'm glad to see that the cable and telecom industry is acting quickly to address this demand and to make sure that lower income families are covered with plans like Connect@Compete. Hopefully the Commission will be able to act as quickly on freeing up spectrum to fulfill these demands.

  4. Clearly the demand for faster mobile networks, sharper images, more apps and better streaming video are not going to decrease anytime soon. And I'm not sure if a campaign to get people to conserve their wireless data consumption (similar to the Go Green campaign) would work, so I think the FCC should continue working on this issue by auctioning off spectrum.

  5. The Commission should ensure that spectrum redistributed from incentive auctions reaches the market as soon as possible and encourage greater small, women, minority business participation in the mobile industry than what has been produced in the media industry.

  6. This is an interesting discussion. As a consumer, I use these devices with the expectation that service will always at least be consistent with what I have now. I guess I always assumed that enough spectrum would be available to meet the demands created by new technology. It appears, however, that if not enough spectrum is redisctributed the incentive to continue to keep up with new technology such as the iPad 3 may dissipate. As a consumer, if I buy new techonlogy, I want to be able to use it to the fullest. I want the fastest speeds, the best graphics, etc. If the FCC's reluctance to redistribute spectrum means that I may not be able to realize the full use of my technology, I might need to revisit my purchasing decisions.

  7. Hopefully the proverbial "silver lining" lies in Congress's efforts to auction wireless spectrum – so that the answer to the question the article poses will be an unequivocal "yes."

  8. There are so many devices that come out, almost every few months. It doesnt seem that people realize the connection to the spectrum crisis. This article does a good job of making that connection.

    People get so excited about new technology without really understanding that the more advanced the tech becomes the more sophisticated our policy infrastructure needs to become. What will be the utility in having an iPad4 or iPad5 if its too expensive to use and the capabilities are compromised by lack of access to mobile bandwidth?