Where Is the Spectrum Deficit?

Posted: 2 Apr 2015

See all articles by Giulia McHenry

Giulia McHenry

Government of the United States of America - National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

Coleman Bazelon

The Brattle Group

Date Written: March 31, 2015


In 2010, the FCC identified 547 MHz of available wireless broadband spectrum and forecasted that the United States (U.S.) would need an additional 300 MHz of licensed flexible use spectrum over the next five years, and 500 MHz over ten years, to meet growing demand for wireless services. Five years later, this paper looks retrospectively at this forecast and assesses the state of the U.S. licensed spectrum supply.

The paper begins by assessing the current inventory of licensed wireless broadband spectrum. We first review the allocations that made up the 547 MHz of spectrum the FCC identified in 2010. For example, some allocations such as the ATC spectrum may not constitute the same amount of usable frequencies as originally intended. Next we assess the recent additions to the national mobile broadband spectrum inventory, including H-Block, AWS-3, and WCS. Finally, we consider what, and when, additional spectrum is likely to be available in the near-term. The most obvious candidate for additional spectrum is the repurposed broadcast frequencies, but we will also explore other potential candidates.

Using this revised inventory, we then look retrospectively on the FCC’s spectrum deficit. Recently updated Cisco forecasts of total wireless (macro network) demand suggests that explosive growth of wireless services will continue through this decade. By the FCC’s original projections, we should be in spectrum deficit by now. Since cellular networks are still working, this paper takes a closer look at what happened to this deficit. How has the U.S. accommodated this growing demand for wireless services? To understand what is different from the world forecast by the FCC, we will first compare the FCC’s 2010 forecast to actual developments over the past 5 years. Incorporating lessons learned from reviewing the 2010 forecasts, we will update these forecasts to project spectrum needs over the next 5 years. Ultimately, this paper tries to answer the question: Are we any better prepared today to meet growing wireless demand than we were when the FCC’s National Broadband Plan was first published?

Keywords: Spectrum, Spectrum Value, Wireless, Mobile, Telecom, National Broadband Plan, FCC

JEL Classification: D45, D46, D59

Suggested Citation

McHenry, Giulia and Bazelon, Coleman, Where Is the Spectrum Deficit? (March 31, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2032199

Giulia McHenry (Contact Author)

Government of the United States of America - National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) ( email )

1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20230
United States

Coleman Bazelon

The Brattle Group ( email )

44 Brattle Street
3rd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138-3736
United States
202-955-5050 (Phone)

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