Is what we're paying for really what we need to sustain mobility?
C-Span's show The Communicators featured a segment on Martin Cooper, inventor of the mobile phone. One topic they covered was spectral efficiency—which is reuse of the same radio spectrum many times in one geographic area (cell). The issue is the size of the spectrum and its efficiency has doubled every 30 months. Freeing up more spectrum is "a wish and a hope," according to Mr. Cooper.
When I spoke with Dr. H. Dean Cubley, CEO of ERF Wireless, and asked what he thought about the FCC's goal of 100 Mbps to every household, he said, "Ambitious, and besides, 100 Mbps has implication in the useable spectrum--even if 700Mhz is freed up there's still not enough useable spectrum that will propagate wirelessly."
Cisco predicts in their Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast a 39-fold increase from 2009-2014, or a compounded annual growth rate of 108 percent. The impacts of the iPhone, iPad (3 million sold in 80 days) and smart phones are striking. Growth continues in spite of changes in consumer behavior to move away from cell plans to prepaid blocks of minutes. Opportunity pounds on the carriers' doors for delivery of enterprise rich applications. Cell bypass is a demand. People don’t want to pay for plans rigged against them, and enterprise is charged with reining in costs and being accountable to the IRS. Growth plows ahead and something other than the FCC shuffle must resolve these issues. According to Mr. Cooper, "We need better use of spectrum, not getting more spectrum."
Paul Nagi, P.E. of Network Systems Technologies writes in Distributed Antenna Systems for Indoor Cellular Network that 70-80 percent of mobile traffic originates from inside buildings.
Mr. Cooper made the point about cellular traffic and that is better use of what we have with respect to existing spectrum. Think about the course of the cellular industry, starting with licensed Car radios, then wired car phones and later massive adoption rates of mobile cell and smart phones. You can't forget when we were all still corded to our cars. Then we endured the bag phones for some muscle tone. These were continuous steps of improvement until we ended up with pocket sized smart phones.
Smart Antennas, offloading traffic to WiFi and improved compression are methods of improving what we use. When we revisit wireline cost per minute from the 1970s to present day for long distance, international or toll free traffic we see notable trends of change. When we review cellular we see trends that favor the carriers having been adopted in doing more for less for their benefit, and yet they are still charging premium rates for the past-harvested benefits of spectral efficiency.
As Mr. Cooper points out, "Who owns the spectrum?"--if we (the public) own it then why is it so expensive to use? Would you knowingly pay 16 cents or more per minute for a local phone call? Check your cell bills. Now that you know, or if you knew previously that 70-80 percent of your cell traffic originates from indoors, don't you think it's time to rethink where this traffic goes? Mobility is great and so is having phones small and powerful enough to perform like computers, but is what we’re paying for really what we need to sustain mobility?