Mobile data traffic in the U.S. will be 35 times higher in 2014 than it was in 2009, leading to a massive wireless spectrum shortage if the government fails to make more available, the Federal Communications Commission said in a paper released last month.
About 42% of U.S. mobile customers now own a smartphone, up from 16% three years ago, and between the first quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2010, data use per mobile line grew by 450%, the paper said.
The FCC expects smartphone use -- and a corresponding increase in mobile data use -- to continue to skyrocket, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
"If we don't act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we're going to run into a wall -- a spectrum crunch -- that will stifle American innovation and economic growth and cost us the opportunity to lead the world in mobile communications," he warned.
In a national broadband plan released in March, the FCC called for 300 MHz of spectrum to be made available for mobile broadband uses in the next five years, and an additional 200 MHz in the subsequent five years.
Much of that spectrum would come from bands now controlled by the FCC or other government agencies, but 120 MHz would come from spectrum now owned but unused by U.S. television stations. Under the broadband plan, the stations would give back unused spectrum in exchange for part of the profits when the spectrum is sold at auction.
The FCC would need congressional approval to hold these so-called incentive auctions.
The National Association of Broadcasters was cool to the proposal that TV stations give up spectrum. NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said the trade group looks forward to working with the FCC and Congress to ensure that "spectrum deployment matches actual spectrum demand" and doesn't harm the U.S. broadcasting system.
This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.