Yesterday our fearless FCC Chairman made it clear that another of his top priorities will be to free up more spectrum for high speed wireless data services. Now, I’m certainly not opposed to more spectrum for wireless networks, the more the merrier! But as I read the various coverage of his remarks, there’s something I just have to mention. More wireless spectrum is strictly a short term fix, because it is a limited resource. If a landline runs out of capacity, we just add more fiber. With wireless spectrum doesn’t matter how much you invest, how loudly you complain, or how badly you need it, the amount of spectrum available is limited by physics. What we’ve got is all we’re going to get, and all we can do is reshuffle it and use it more effectively. That doesn’t scale with exponential bandwidth growth.
So what’s the long term solution? Femtocells and Wi-Fi. Offload all the ‘mobile’ traffic that isn’t actually ‘mobile’ onto fiber. Yes fiber. The solution to exponential wireless bandwidth growth is actually fiber – FTTH. I know, I know, carriers are having enough trouble with FTTH in the US, right? They’re afraid of their networks will turn into dumb pipes with low margins, doesn’t this make it worse? But it’s easier to defeat economics than it is to violate the laws of physics. Right now femtocells are being used by the large wireless carriers to improve indoor coverage, and not as a way to ease pressure on their networks, with consumers paying for the privilege. That’s because they’re still expensive, but nothing a little investment won’t fix.