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Breaking the Broadband Bottleneck: NTIA Spectrum Sharing Report

Last week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report to Congress concerning proposals to expand commercial spectrum sharing opportunities with government and other systems operating at 5 GHz.  This is a direct result of landmark Congressional action last year, when it directed the NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to examine whether government might be able to open nearly 200 MHz of additional spectrum to sharing by unlicensed devices.

The proposed spectrum footprint for unlicensed devices would permit operation over a contiguous block of spectrum, from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz, providing significant new spectrum for Gigabit Wi-Fi, the next gen Wi-Fi technology capable of multi-gigabit throughput speeds.  Among its many benefits, Gigabit Wi-Fi would be a major leap forward, opening the door to real time HD video in hundreds of applications.

The NTIA report represents a tremendous step toward understanding the radio environment presented by government and other systems in the expansion bands, and is a positive contribution to the technical examination that needs to happen before devices can be allowed to operate in the expansion bands. We are looking forward to working with the NTIA and  participating in the upcoming FCC rulemaking next month to address the technical issues about how unlicensed equipment can share spectrum with incumbent users successfully.

We are very pleased that NTIA has reached this important milestone in the examination of whether additional spectrum can be made available for unlicensed devices at 5 GHz.  The new Gigabit Wi-Fi technologies that we are deploying at 5 GHz represent tremendous advancements in radio technology, and will accelerate the use of high definition video in a range of new applications. In hospitals, manufacturing, education and throughout the economy, Gigabit Wi-Fi promises to break new ground in delivering high quality video imaging. And it is just as important that Wi-Fi is becoming the off-load technology of choice – carrying an estimated 60% of all Internet traffic at the edge by 2016.

Wi-Fi is becoming the default way in which devices connect to the Internet and is now incorporated into everything from smart phones and tablets to cars and smart grid technologies.  Adding wireless capacity is a years-long effort.  If policymakers don’t act now, America faces a serious supply-demand imbalance in the near term. More spectrum must be made available for connectivity and innovation to continue supporting America’s job growth.

Incentive auctions: Preparing for the Avalanche of Data

It’s begun!  The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today launched an important new proceeding that, together with a lot of hard work and some policy leadership, will allocate much-needed radio spectrum for broadband.  Called “incentive auctions,” the concept is relatively simple – ask the broadcasters how much they want for their licenses, decide which broadcaster “bids” to accept, repackage that spectrum and auction it off to mobile carriers.

We at Cisco know first-hand the pressures our carrier customers face, as consumers continue to adopt more and more powerful mobile computing devices – phones, tablets, laptops and more.  Cisco’s Visual Networking Index has illuminated for policymakers the dimensions of the transition by consumers to data and video.  In the US, Cisco projects mobile data will increase 16 times from 2011 through 2016, to 1.7 exabytes per month, up from an estimated 0.2 exabytes per month in 2012.

All those packets use radio spectrum, and as we’ve seen this year from the acceleration of deal-making among holders of spectrum, there is a scramble on to find enough spectrum to ensure that consumer demand can be met.  Even with these deals, carriers must have more spectrum, and the next place where it will be found is the UHF television bands.

Incentive auctions represent the first time a regulator will create a market mechanism to allow broadcasters to exit their spectrum in exchange for compensation, permitting the FCC to repurpose that spectrum for mobile broadband.

Among the key issues to watch:

  • Will the FCC be able to keep this proceeding on track to culminate in auctions in 2014?  By then, spectrum needs will be critical.
  • How quickly will the FCC articulate clear and comprehensive rules that will allow broadcasters to make an informed judgment about whether to participate?
  • Has the FCC correctly implemented Congressional direction to permit unlicensed use in guardbands to the extent technically reasonable to present interference to adjacent bands? Have they proposed too much unlicensed? Not enough?
  • And one issue Congress will be watching closely. Does Congress think that the sum total of the FCC’s proposed rules mean that the FCC will realize enough money to fund the new public safety broadband network at $7 billion, in addition to deficit reduction?

The undertaking begun today is huge. The FCC, which invented spectrum auctions back in the 1990s, will now call “incentive auctions” to life.  They are the world’s experts on these topics and there will be a lot of detailed conversation in the next months. Cisco, carriers and consumers will be watching.

Government and Industry Leaders Want Broadband Everywhere

The latest update of the Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecast of Internet protocol (IP) data traffic from 2011 to 2016 is just astonishing. At the top level, global IP traffic growth is exploding at a CAGR of nearly 30% with much regional variation across the world, and different technologies and applications gaining share.

To explore the implications of the VNI forecasts for countries, consumers and corporations, I hosted a panel of experts with a wide range of policy, technical and industry experience. Joining the discussion were:

Diego Molano Vega: Colombia’s Minister of Information Technology and Communications

Daniel Weitzner: Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House

Kathleen Abernathy: Chief Legal Officer and Executive Vice President of Frontier Communications; and former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission

Kevin McElearney: Senior Vice President of Network Engineering at Comcast

The panel discussed a wide range of issues, with three key take-aways:

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Internet Traffic Continues to Explode, No End in Sight

“In 2016, over 1.3 Zettabytes of data will travel across Internet protocol (IP) networks. That’s over 10 times the traffic generated in 2008 and more than all the IP traffic that traversed global networks from 1984 to 2012 combined (1.2 Zettabytes).”

This estimate is from the latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) released today by Cisco which forecasts IP network traffic patterns from 2011 to 2016. The annual VNI rolling five year forecast has become a trusted industry barometer for how rapidly the use of global IP networks is expanding.

So what’s driving the explosive data growth?

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Getting to the UN Broadband Commission’s 2015 Goals

Earlier this week, I attended the UN’s Broadband Commission meeting in Ohrid, Macedonia, where we discussed initiatives to reach the Commission’s goals by 2015:

1) All countries have national broadband plans;

2) Broadband is affordable in developing countries so that entry-level broadband services cost less than 5% of average month income;

3) Broadband is adopted by 40% of households in developing countries; and that

4) Broadband penetration reaches 60% of the worldwide population and 50% in developing countries

To support this vision of an ever expanding Internet that people see as essential, Cisco sponsored the 83rd Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting last week in Paris. At the IETF, more than 1,400 of the leading Internet engineers and technologists from around the world gathered to further develop the standards which provide the foundation for Internet services such as domain names, email, the Web, and instant messaging.

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