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Obama Plans To Double Available Wireless Spectrum

The administration's proposal calls for making 500 megahertz of spectrum available over the next 10 years.

The battle over the National Broadband Plan took a brief breather Monday as the Obama administration said it plans to double the amount of spectrum available over the next several years.

While the announcement, made by White House Director of the National Economic Council Lawrence Summers, was hailed for its plan to auction off government and broadcasters' spectrum, it immediately raised the question: will it be enough? In other words can a doubling of spectrum be enough to provide enough services for the smartphones and other wireless devices that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski says are expected to push demand by 30 to 40 times ?

Carriers are already resorting to a number of measures designed to conserve spectrum including metering data plans. That approach was pioneered by AT&T last month, but other mobile carriers have indicated they, too, will eventually meter smartphone data usage. Femtocells, Wi-Fi hotzones and a more efficient configuration of cell towers will help, too.

In his announcement at Washington think tank New America Foundation, Summers said: "Opening up spectrum will create the foundation for new private-sector investment and economic activity (that) would not have been possible without the coordinating and organizing role of government."

The recommendations will likely help pave the way for a nationwide network for public safety responders, who have been burdened by a patchwork of often-incompatible networks. Two years ago, the government tried to auction off spectrum for first responders, but there were no serious bids. The FCC has been attempting to restructure a new auction and Monday's announcement is likely to help preparations for a new auction.

The Obama administration's proposal calls for some 220 megahertz of spectrum to come from the federal government with another big chunk to come from public broadcasters.

Wireless industry trade association chief Steve Largent praised the announcement. "By making spectrum available for auction," said Largent in a statement, "the Administration will enable the wireless industry to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our 'virtuous cycle' of innovation. This announcement is a win for all Americans as it will drive innovation, investment and job creation, while at the same time providing much needed revenue not only for the US Treasury, but also for a nationwide interoperable Public Safety Network.

Largent is president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association.

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