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Mobile operators: US quake proves we need more spectrum

But 'no networks failed ...'

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Operator body CTIA reckons that Tuesday's earthquake proves US operators need more radio spectrum – and quickly – despite the fact that much of the owned bandwidth lies unused.

The call for more spectrum is an oft-repeated mantra, taken up by the US government (and echoed by the UK's), claiming that unless network operators are given more radio spectrum the entire industry will grind to a halt. But in a press release, the CTIA's CEO points out that it is not just the mobile industry which is at risk.

"Yesterday's earthquake underscored the vital need for our industry to get more spectrum," he explains, going on to draw an analogy simple enough for the hard-of-thinking to follow. "Cars are like our mobile devices. ... Yesterday, a huge number of users were trying to use the same highway at the same time, which caused the jam. With more spectrum, we'd have more lanes that would allow more users."

This would make more sense if AT&T wasn't sitting on $12bn worth of radio spectrum already: a multi-lane highway lying empty alongside your traffic jam. There are also the bands LightSquared is trying to open up, not to mention Dish Networks' latest plan and the huge potential of White Space devices.

To be fair to AT&T, it is planning to deploy LTE in the bands it owns, rather than any malicious hoarding of resources, but it is also in all of the operators' interest to get as much spectrum onto the open market as possible, and AT&T in particular has to convince the FCC that its need for spectrum can only be sated by acquiring T-Mobile USA.

In fact, the mobile networks seemed to have coped rather well with the earthquake, by the CTIA's own admission: "No wireless towers went down and no networks failed ... wireless networks processed the huge surge of communications attempts across the nation at rates massively higher than normal."

So operators coped with what they had, and already have a lot more coming on-line in the next few years. At some point one has to wonder if building more roads is always the solution. ®

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