I recently received a text message from my cell phone provider, AT&T. I had been aware for some time that the unlimited data package I have is no longer available, and that if I upgrade my phone I will lose the package I currently have. I really hadn’t put much thought to it, my assumption was that they provided the package during a time that it wasn’t apparent what kind of boom they’d be experiencing in cell phone usage. I was partially right. After I received the text, pictured to the left, I actually did a little bit of research.
Initially I was extremely angry. This is a service that I’ve been paying for, that I have had consistently for a number of years. I use my phone for work emails, I use my phone to watch videos in bed, I use my phone for an awful lot of internet related reasons. I’d like you to note I received this message on May 6th, meaning that in 6 days I managed to hit a cap in data usage that they deemed excessive. I don’t foresee my internet usage going down anytime soon.
Then I started to research into what was going on. AT&T isn’t just going to send out something like that without a reason, there is some purpose or end served by them capping data like that. It was then that I began to learn a bit about what has been deemed the “Spectrum Crunch“. I watched a video by Extra Credits going over the details, and found it absolutely fascinating.
I was actually right in my guess, after smartphones went big several years ago they didn’t quite account for how big they were going to get. You see, apparently the mobile phone industry is running out of the air wave space necessary to serve their client base.
Your average iPhone uses 24 times as much spectrum as your average flip phone used to. The iPad? It uses 122 times as much spectrum. As technology moves forward this problem is only going to be compounded. The big question here is this: what are we doing to solve this increasingly large problem? Apparently we are slated to run out of spectrum sometime in 2014.
What are we doing about it? Well, the cell phone companies are taking a sort of ham-fisted approach, increasing the price of access to data, trying to encourage people to connect to the internet via wifi access points rather than their 3G and 4G networks, and just overall taking other steps to ensure people are discouraged from using their phones to connecto the internet. Many of the companies were lobbying for the government to open access to the spectrums that a lot of TV stations have a hold on, like many of the channels that you can get access to via antennae. These all seem to be stop gaps to the problem, and not overall solutions.
A lot of folks think that the spectrum crunch has been overblown. Many of the cell phone providers seem to be secure that they can continue providing coverage as they have for at least 4 or 5 more years. I still think that even if we have a few years this is still a serious problem we need to look at. The FCC certainly seems to think so. I’m just shocked that this isn’t a more widely known issue. If we don’t come up with a solid solution to this problem we could have some hard decisions ahead of ourselves within the next decade.
- Steve Pociask: Consumers Are Talking; Policymakers Need to Listen (huffingtonpost.com)
- FCC hopes to avoid ‘end of world’ for cell phones (money.cnn.com)
- Spectrum debate likely hot topic for CTIA (reviews.cnet.com)