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Coming to Grips with the Coming Spectrum Crisis in the United States

For all of you who rely on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, your elected representatives have given you  something to cheer about. Mobile data traffic is projected by Cisco to grow 21 times between 2010 and 2015, from about 45 petabytes per month to over 900 petabytes per month.  All those “bytes” need radio spectrum – and lots of it.  More spectrum than is available today.  And more spectrum than what the US government can provide based on current inventories.

The Senate Commerce Committee looked the mobile future in the face and today approved Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s (R-TX) bill to make available significant new spectrum for commercial wireless networks (both licensed and unlicensed) and for public safety.  While there is likely to be a long and winding road before Congress sends a spectrum bill to the White House, a committee vote is an important milestone in moving from policy ideas to concrete legislation.

The Senate Commerce Committee’s action today, if it becomes law, would open a minimum of 84 MHz, and quite possibly more, spectrum for licensed carrier use in spectrum now assigned to broadcast television.  It would also require the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency to consider opening an additional 120 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band – now increasingly used for Wi Fi.  Public safety would get more spectrum, too, from a 10 MHz piece of spectrum previously assigned to commercial uses but not auctioned.

Is all this spectrum really necessary? Yes.  With demand soaring at unprecedented rate, carriers are increasingly offloading data traffic to Wi Fi.  The wireless technologies that are used to deliver broadband access require broad blocks of spectrum to work efficiently.  More spectrum provides a path forward for innovation – for newer, faster and better devices and applications.  And the action helps each of us in our daily lives – more spectrum will be a huge help in avoiding future congestion so that we can enjoy all those powerful (and fun!) devices and applications.

Cisco joined with the tech industry to advance this legislation, and we will continue to champion the cause of more spectrum as the bill continues to wind its course through Congress.

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