CTIA Keynote: Spectrum, Innovation Issues For Wireless Industry
May 8, 2012

CTIA Keynote: Spectrum, Innovation Issues For Wireless Industry

Enid Burns for RedOrbit.com

The wireless industry is poised for growth, however, it has a rather large roadblock that could stop everything: spectrum. The key to further growth in the arena is the opening up of spectrum and forward growth in innovation. That´s what was discussed in a keynote speech at CTIA Wireless on Tuesday.

Sustainability, security and innovation are all key drivers to the wireless industry, as identified by Patrick Riordon, president and CEO of Cellcom and Chairman of CTIA-The Wireless Association. “To accomplish this, CTIA will work with industry members, regulators and legislators to ensure a healthy, efficient and competitive wireless industry,” Riordon said.

Spectrum stands in the way of all of those objectives. “Greater innovation will come when increased spectrum is made available with equality to all carriers,” said Riordon. “It will stimulate worldwide growth of economies,” the CTIA Chairman said during his keynote speech, urging the government to make more spectrum available.

That request was addressed by Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who took the stage after Riordon. He discussed several ways the government is working with CTIA and the wireless industry.

In addressing security concerns, the government has partnered the CTIA as part of an “initiative to tackle the increase in cell phone theft.” These programs will allow phones to be disabled if stolen; and provide password protection and apps that will help locate lost or stolen phones.

While Genachowski discussed security, jobs initiatives and other concerns in the sector, he focused his talk on spectrum. He outlined many ways the government is working to free up spectrum space and push innovation in the wireless industry.

“Last year we became the first country in the world to free up whitespace for unlicensed use,” Genachowski said. While it´s not happening yet, the FCC and the government are working on holding spectrum auctions, and reallocating spectrum currently held by the government and military.

Future areas of growth, as Genachowski sees it, are implementing shared spectrum and small cells. Shared spectrum will allow military and commercial interests to share areas of the spectrum band. “It is increasingly hard to free up blocks of spectrum and reallocate them from the government to commercial use,” he said. “It would be counterproductive to limit ourselves with just two options: give up spectrum or nothing.”

The government has already started to test LTE sharing between government and commercial use. “We are beginning to make this next frontier of spectrum sharing a reality,” Genachowski said.

If spectrum isn´t opened up soon, it could be a big headache for the wireless industry. “It´s the single most important issue,” analyst Jeffrey Silva, senior policy director, telecommunications, media and technology at Medley Global Advisors (MGA), told RedOrbit. “It is the end of the line or die.”

Small cells are another answer, according Genachowski. Small cells involve the installation of smaller, denser network of cell towers to bring wireless services to more remote areas. The installation of small cells is done “by increasing the density of network deployment several fold. Getting networks closer to users,” said Genachowski.

The implementation of small cells is key to reaching a wider swath of land. Rural areas are now able to get wireless services, which they didn´t have access to previously. For rural areas, small cells and spectrum go hand-in-hand. “I think the spectrum is valuable. The government has a large amount of spectrum,” Kentucky legislative representative Martha Jane King (D) told RedOrbit.

The government understands the need to open spectrum and work with the wireless industry to further growth in the space. Auctions are already planned to sell off valuable bands, with more to follow once the spectrum space is freed up.