Debates about whether there is, or is not, a “spectrum crunch” erupt from time to time. One side typically argues that mobile service providers, for example, have plenty of spectrum they are not using. The other side argues that demand is poised to outstrip supply.
Although it might be fair to say that scarcity is largely an accurate present description, abundance might be a more-apt description of what is coming.
Also, just how much commercially-available mobile spectrum exists in the U.S. market is debated.
In the past, for example, the Federal Communications Commission has tallied as much as 608 MHz of mobile spectrum where the CTIA has identified just 410 MHz.
The FCC also estimated U.K. mobile spectrum at 353 MHz while CTIA counted 375 MHz. In the case of Japan, FCC finds 500 MHz of spectrum while CTIA counted 347 MHz.
And though it also can be argued that not all spectrum is created equal (lower frequencies clearly are better for coverage, higher frequencies are better for capacity), on the capacity dimension, abundance seems a better long-term forecast than scarcity.
As that becomes more clear, business models will morph, especially if presently based on an assumption of scarcity. Most obviously, ecosystem relationships should change as access capacity moves from scarcity to abundance.
Up to this point, access bandwidth really has generally been ruled by “scarcity value,” as there were relatively few providers and bandwidth was hard to increase. With access bandwidth as with diamonds or gold, scarcity means higher value, and therefore higher prices.
As any farmer also will attest, abundance means lower commodity prices.
There could be other implications as well. The value of much licensed spectrum could fall, as so muchy additional supply will be available (though scarcity will still be relative with much more scarcity in the lower frequencies (600 MHz to 800 MHz in the U.S. market, for example).
In the millimeter-wave bands, abundance will be the norm, implying relatively lower value–and prices–for spectrum rights. In fact, in some markets, such as the United States, an extraordinary amount of new unlicensed spectrum is coming.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is moving to make available an extraordinary amount of new spectrum, including seven gigaHertz (7 GHz) worth of unlicensed spectrum, in the millimeter wave bands, and a total of 11 GHz, including 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum, in a first wave.
Nor is that all. The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which seeks comment on rules adding another 18 GHz of spectrum encompassing eight additional high-frequency bands, as well as spectrum sharing for the 37 GHz to 37.6 GHz band.
That is going to potentially enable many new opportunities. With so much unlicensed spectrum (7 GHz) available (all Wi-Fi presently represents a perhaps 700 MHz). App, device and other access providers will be able to support access operations without owning or paying for spectrum, with the likely big advantages coming in the untethered access areas.
That is why unlicensed spectrum, shared spectrum and millimeter wave spectrum will be big topics at Spectrum Futures. Here’s a fact sheet summarizing the event.