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Government Wireless Networking

FCC Chairman Warns of Wireless Spectrum Gap 300

Posted by timothy
from the congress-from-whom-all-blessings-flow dept.
locallyunscene writes "'We are fast entering a world where mass-market mobile devices consume thousands of megabytes each month,' FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski warned at CTIA Wireless yesterday. 'So we must ask: what happens when every mobile user has an iPhone, a Palm Pre, a BlackBerry Tour, or whatever the next device is? What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or netbooks?'"
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FCC Chairman Warns of Wireless Spectrum Gap

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  • This sounds like back in the mid-1990's when people were giving dire prediction about the Internet being overloaded and becoming unusable.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    • by snowraver1 (1052510) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:15PM (#29687267)
      The difference is that the internet is more scalable. We didn't run into problems back then because of increases in CPU power that allows for larger routing tables and advances in fibre that allows for more data on the same strand. This is a physical problem. There is only so much spectrum available. Once the air is saturated on the allocated frequencies, we are done. No more room, period.
      • Re:It's 1996 again? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Nikker (749551) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:39PM (#29687439)
        Don't worry about the physical bandwidth as it will open the door to more ideas like distributed caching and broadcasting single packets among multiple devices. Then again the more people cry about the sky falling the more incentive there is to impliment ideas like this for way too much money to satisfy egos. Wireless is really the way to go for the end consumer and if it does really get that big then cell carriers will devote their towers into the mix(for a price of course). Remember it's not all the bandwidth that's being eaten up it's just this particular portion as demand goes up so eventually will the supply, we will just come up with more effective and clever ways of doing it.
      • Re:It's 1996 again? (Score:5, Informative)

        by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:40PM (#29687447) Journal

        >>>Once the air is saturated on the allocated frequencies, we are done

        Not quite "done". We can say goodbye to over-the-air FM and TV. We already lost channels 52 to 83 that were turned-over to cellphones, and I suspect it's only a matter of time until channels 2 to 51 (including the FM band) disappear. That would not meet the FCC's "30 fold" estimate, but it would increase the available wireless spectrum by about 9 times present levels.

        Lower frequency shortwave and AM radio will probably survive, simply because it's not practical to carry-around 100 foot long transmitting antennas with your phone.

        • "Allocated frequencies" were key words. Yes, there are lots of other frequencies that we could use, some better than others. The problem is that they are not currently licensed for that purpose, so cannot be counted as available bandwidth.
        • It really doesn't make sense to trade the FM for digital. Carrier frequency isn't high enough to be of much use.

          I'm rather depressed at the whole TV debacle, too. There should be room for analog TV within our culture/society. Maybe HAM?

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          You don't need nearly as long an antenna to receive an AM signal (granted, I still suspect they're a bit big for pocket-sized phones). If you allowed that the phone could transmit in one band in receive in another then the AM bands could still be useful.

        • by Dare nMc (468959)

          I wouldn't grantee too much on AM/shortwave. To transmit efficiently you may want a good sized antenna but couldn't the small devices still transmit on higher frequencies, and receive on the lower frequencies with the base stations being huge still?

        • by Mr.Radar (764753) on Friday October 09, 2009 @01:26AM (#29689239)
          I can see OTA TV going away (ATSC is horrible for mobile reception and cable/satellite work for almost all other purposes) but I predict an uprising if analog FM radio is ever taken away. Right now if you go to any dollar store you will probably find at least 1 FM radio. My car, alarm clock, emergency flashlight, MP3 players, (dumb last-gen) cellphone, and home theater receiver all have FM radios built in. It is possibly the most ubiquitous mass communications medium if you go by the number of receivers per capita.

          The technology is extremely mature, very inexpensive, not (currently) patented, about as portable as it gets and it doesn't require a $50 monthly subscription to use. Sure *you* might not listen to FM radio but I and millions of other people do every day. Every car built since the 70s has an FM radio and people still listen to it every day when they drive. I get my news, in real time, from public radio between classes on my MP3 player's built-in FM tuner. Other technologies might be able to partially replace FM, but they will be massively more expensive and they will probably never achieve the reach FM has today.

          Bottom line: because of the built-up infrastructure, FM is here to stay.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think GP is probably correct. When we have problems, we tend to find solutions to them. Certainly with today's approach we are going to run out of bandwidth. Perhaps tomorrow's technology will stop sending signals in every direction, but somehow negotiate direct paths over the air using directed antennae from one or both transceivers. Then the 3D space starts becoming your friend instead of your enemy.
      • by icebike (68054)

        This is a physical problem. There is only so much spectrum available.

        Kind of reminds me of the predictions that 9.6, then 14.4, then 28.8 were the fastest possible modem throughput on copper because it was physically impossible to squeeze any more information onto the available bandwidth.

        Yet each time someone makes this assertion something else comes along.

        With radio, as frequencies increase, building penetration, foliage penetration decreases. With increased cellular handset density the signal to noise floor rises and soon the phones can't hear themselves for all the shout

      • Massive wi-fi mesh? In fact, India already does something very similar for a very long time.

        Isn't it great that so many of our mobiles already have wi-fi hardware!?

      • I thought of a solution.

        Have cell towers and data towers be much much closer together. Then have them all be short range. And transfer the data over cables. Done, If we make 30x as many towers (these would all be tiny cheap places compared to current towers) and made more fiber hookups... Then the problem is solved without anything particularly genius. We can probably keep doing this for quite some time before it becomes a major issue.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TikiTDO (759782)
      Spot on. The problem with the article is that it fails to account for advances in technology. As we need more bandwidth, technology will evolve to give you more bandwidth. That in less spectrum, with higher reliability and less interference.

      As you pointed out, this happened for wired connections in the past. In response, we are almost to commercial 40Gb and even 100Gb links, the latter being targeted for 40km stretches [wikipedia.org].
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        >>>technology will evolve to give you more bandwidth.

        No. There's a limit to how much technology can do. That's why phone lines are maxed-out at 56 kbit/s - there's no more room for expansion since it's already at the physical limit. Same applies with wireless.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jonbryce (703250)

          I'm getting about 7 Gbits from the phone line that used to be maxed out at 52k or so, and I can make voice calls on it at the same time as my downloads, something I couldn't do before.

          • by fbjon (692006)
            I'm pretty sure you're not using the phone line, but rather the cable that the phone line also happens to use. Ordinary phone lines max out at 56k, because the whole infrastructure of voice calls is designed with that limitation in mind.
          • 7 Gbits!?!? WOW, who is your provider? Do you live in the local exchange? If, so, that would definitely explain how you can make calls at the same time...
          • by blitziod (591194)

            you mena the phone line that used to be maxed out at 1200bps, then 2400 bps, then they KNEW that 9600 bps was the max ..there was JUST no way to send any more information down a single phone line. Then they KNEW 56000 bps was the max, etc..

            • >>>Then they KNEW 56000 bps was the max, etc..

              Ever heard of the Shannon limit? On an analog phone line, you cannot exceed 35 kbit/s (V.34). Ever heard of Nyquist theory? On a digital phone line, the 4000 hertz bandwidth sampled at 8000 times per second, times 7 bits per sample == 56000 maximum.

              As Scotty on Star Trek would say, "You cannae change the laws of physics!"

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            >>>I'm getting about 7 Gbits from the phone line that used to be maxed out at 52k or so

            No you're not. When you upgraded to DSL, the company disconnected the telephone line (bandlimited to 4000 hertz) with a standard twisted-pair wire (no upper limit). Furthermore they disconnected your house from the old phone service, and connected it to a DSLAM which converts the short ~500 meter cable to higher-quality coaxial or fiber.

            So my previous comment about the 4000-hertz wide telephone service still be

        • by TikiTDO (759782)
          I think kevinmenzel illustrated the point quite well. Analog phone lines are indeed no faster than 56 kbits/second. That's why we went to a new technology, and now have DSL. However, I'm not proposing we try to get more data into current wireless protocols, clearly that is a waste of time as they were not designed to do this.

          Physically though, the spectrum is effectively infinite. With technology advanced and sensitive enough, you could send all the world's data in a second, using the same spectrum that mig
          • Analog phone lines are indeed no faster than 56 kbits/second

            For the sake of clarity analog phone lines are inherently limited to 2400 bits/second (bps). Better compression algorithms got us up to 56 kbps.

            • Sorry for the repost, I meant to add this link explaining twisted pair:

              http://www.computing.dcu.ie/~humphrys/Notes/Networks/physical.phone.html [computing.dcu.ie]

            • Re:It's 1996 again? (Score:4, Informative)

              by fluffy99 (870997) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:51PM (#29687985)

              Analog phone lines are indeed no faster than 56 kbits/second

              For the sake of clarity analog phone lines are inherently limited to 2400 bits/second (bps). Better compression algorithms got us up to 56 kbps.

              For the sake of clarity, you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. 56-kbits/second is the max because that's what the analog-digital converters within the telco are set for. A DS0 phone circuit is by definition a 56k or 64k digital channel (depends on inband or out-of-band signalling). The early 2400 and 4800 limits were due to poor quality lines and equipment that just wasn't setup to go faster. This was back when most users were just doing text and fax machines were the bandwidth intensive applications.

              The magic of 56k comes from the users modem being able to synchronize its timing and discrete output levels (the "constellation") to match the analog-digital converter attached to the users phone line. The server end of the circuit must be digitally connected for this to work.

            • >>>phone lines are inherently limited to 2400 bits/second (bps). Better compression algorithms got us up to 56 kbps.
              >>>

              False. The physical limits on an analog phone line are 3,429 SYMBOLS per second, with approximately 10 bits represented by each symbol, to achieve 33,800 bits per second (V.34)

              The physical limits on digital phone lines are 8000 SAMPLES per second, and 7 bits each, to yield 56,000 bits per second. The 8th bit is reserved by the telephone company, otherwise we would see 64

          • >>>I think kevinmenzel illustrated the point quite well. Analog phone lines are indeed no faster than 56 kbits/second. That's why we went to a new technology, and now have DSL.
            >>>

            Yes but if DSL was forced to fit inside the same bandwidth as the old dialup phone modems (4000 hertz wide), it would still only be 64 kbit/s speed. *That* was the point I was making... you can only squeeze so much data into a FIXED width of space. The universe places physical limits in what engineers can

        • >>>>>>>>technology will evolve to give you more bandwidth.
          >>
          >>No. There's a limit to how much technology can do. That's why phone lines are maxed-out at 56 kbit/s - there's no more room for expansion since it's already at the physical limit (4000 hertz).

          (Score:0, Troll)

          Unbelievable. The moderators on this forum would fail basic PHYSICS 101. They can't even understand the simplicity of Shannon's Limit or Nyquist's Theorem (which state a limited bandwidth has a maxi

      • >>>technology will evolve to give you more bandwidth.

        People didn't like my 56k/4000-hertz-wide telephone example, so I'll try a different tactic: Bandwidth is FIXED. You can change the datarate inside that fixed bandwidth, but that is limited by Shannon's Limit (analog) and Nyquist's Theorem (digital). Engineers can not violate the physical maximums placed upon us by the universe.

  • Spectrum auction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Scutter (18425) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @06:56PM (#29687101) Journal

    Isn't that why our government just auctioned off billions of dollars of our publicly-owned spectrum? So that companies could sell it back to us in the form of a three-year contract?

    • Isn't that why our government just auctioned off billions of dollars of our publicly-owned spectrum?

      The department that manages that spectrum is apparently run by somebody who has yet to discover the term "gigabytes". What could possibly go wrong?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stephanruby (542433)
      What happens? May be, he should just visit Seoul or Tokyo, and ask them what happened over there. That's the advantage of not being the leader of the pack anymore, we can go to the countries/cities that are leading, and time travel to the future that way.
  • by Renegrade (698801) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:03PM (#29687155)

    Welcome to the real world of physics.

    Wired and optical technologies will ever be superior to wireless, by the simple fact that they're essentially 1D lines running through 3D space, whereas a typical wireless signal is a 3D signal in 3D space - a single frequency gives a fixed bandwidth to a single user in a given ~volume~.

    Advanced tricks allow increased sharing, but the fundamental limitations remain.

    Consider the volume of a typical wifi base station .. now imagine filling that volume with OC192 cabling. As they say on the "intartoobs", "pwned".

  • AM and FM radio. Who listens to the radio anymore? It's either over the internet for "radio" or in the car use MP3s, iPods, or CDs for us old farts. Shortwave? Does anyone actually listen to it? I turned on a shortwave and between huge swaths of static, there was Cuba radio, Canadian News (that can be kinda cool), and a few folks praising Jesus and condemning non-believers (everyone who doesn't give them money).
    • Shortwave? Does anyone actually listen to it?

      Spies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_station [wikipedia.org]

      One man's static, is another man's coded instructions.

      So you admit to listening to shortwave static and Cuba Radio? What a give-away.

      I'm not sure about Canadian News, but I'm sure some charges could be trumped up for you listening to that.

      As for the Jesus folks, Bibles make excellent One Time Pads: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_time_pad [wikipedia.org]

      I think shortwave will be around for a bit, even if only spooks listen to it.

    • by compro01 (777531) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:31PM (#29687395)

      If you took the entirety of the AM and FM radio space, you'd have about as much frequency space as a single wifi channel, which would be spread over a fairly large area due to the signal propagation properties. Shortwave would be even worse in that respect.

      In short, it would not be very useful.

    • > AM and FM radio. Who listens to the radio anymore?

      I do, among about 230 million others in the US. Americans spend more time listening to FM radio than to Internet radio, MP3 players, or CDs.

      > Shortwave?

      For "mobile devices"? There are a few problems with that...

      > I turned on a shortwave...

      One you bought at Best Buy for $9.95? With a loop antenna? A real performer, no doubt.

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:02PM (#29687617) Journal

      If there's no radio in my car, what am I supposed to listen to? And before you say "iPod" I don't want to hear the same music over and over. I want to hear new stuff. Also traffic and weather reports ("warning: tornado coming") are nice to have. I like my radio and if they take away both AM and FM, then I'm going to hurt somebody. :-| At the very least leave me AM.

      >>>I turned on a shortwave and between huge swaths of static,

      What? You need to get rid of that old unit, because they have digital shortwave now. It sounds almost as good as a CD, and still remains popular in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

    • Millions of people listen to FM radio. Sheesh, are slashdotters experiences of people really so narrow that that you assume that the geek segment of the population is the only one? Yes, let's get rid of that to add a tiny amount of extra space for people to watch Youtube videos on their mobiles.

      There's a better case for re-using the old analogue TV spectrum, but only because it's been replaced with a functionally equivalent but more bandwidth-efficient system. Broadcast radio hasn't.

  • by rxan (1424721) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:05PM (#29687193)

    What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or netbooks?

    The same thing that always happens: The telecoms cry like babies and the consumers get less for equal or greater cost.

  • You watch, the hams are going to lose spectrum to facilitate commercial interests.
  • Yes, all those mobile devices have wireless and yet the venerable Spectrum [wikipedia.org] still has none. No fair !

  • by six11 (579) <<ude.umc> <ta> <ggosnhoj>> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:15PM (#29687265) Homepage

    I'm no radio engineer, but it is my understanding that there's been a bit of work on dynamic frequency negotiation that allow devices to find frequencies that are and aren't being used (or what levels of noise there are). I've just started looking into Software defined radio [wikipedia.org] and the more esoteric (and horribly-named IMO) Cognitive radio [wikipedia.org] that theoretically provides the (artificial) intelligence to perform such negotiation. The theory is that this approach makes more efficient use of the same spectrum while improving communication for those devices because their I/O is very flexible. And, the devices are hackable in software, which is fun for the whole family.

    If there are any radio people in the room, speak up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      >>>allow devices to find frequencies that are and aren't being used

      Yeah there's already been tests using these devices on the TV Band. What they found was the device could detect strong local stations, but not the low-level signals from 40 miles or more distance, so they started broadcasting over top existing TV stations, thereby interrupting viewers' reception. The idea was rejected by the FCC in early 2008.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by John Hasler (414242)

        I believe that they have since been convinced that the study was flawed and are reconsidering.

  • Economics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:19PM (#29687291) Journal

    It's pretty simple, really. If the company makes money on each connection, and reinvests part of that profit, then the service network overall grows more capable. More towers, more frequencies, more bandwidth.

    Assuming that the phone companies are smart enough to reinvest a portion of their profits - at my company we invest heavily in growth, and have at any time about 5x-10x capacity headroom, along with fully redundant backup schema for D/R. A few times, we've leaned on that extra infrastructure - while not cheap, it's cheap insurance.

    Why would cellular networks be any different?

  • Dynamic Allocation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:20PM (#29687299) Homepage

    > What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile
    > broadband on their laptops or netbooks?

    You finally admit that it isn't 1920 anymore and give up on centralized static global allocation?

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:40PM (#29687449) Homepage

    "'We are fast entering a world where mass-market mobile devices consume thousands of megabytes each month,' FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski warned at CTIA Wireless yesterday. 'So we must ask: what happens when every mobile user has an iPhone, a Palm Pre, a BlackBerry Tour, or whatever the next device is? What happens when we quadruple the number of subscribers with mobile broadband on their laptops or netbooks?'"

    Is the problem all the silos? Suppose every house with a land-line connection also had a wi-fi hub that was open. I think the bandwidth problem would not exist.

    We'd be left with the "how can we profit on this" problem and the "how can the FBI spy on this" problem, but those don't seem nearly as important as the "how can we make information access ubiquitous and fast" problem.

    • by nxtw (866177) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:11PM (#29687681)

      Suppose every house with a land-line connection also had a wi-fi hub that was open. I think the bandwidth problem would not exist.

      802.11 based systems aren't good at many things that existing cellular systems are. It doesn't have soft handoffs and doesn't work well when the same network has adjacent cells using the same channel. For 2.4 GHz 802.11, there are only 3 non-overlapping channels.

      802.11 can't support devices at the same distances / similar power as modern cellular networks.

      • by Bob9113 (14996) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:27PM (#29687829) Homepage

        802.11 based systems aren't good at many things that existing cellular systems are. It doesn't have soft handoffs and doesn't work well when the same network has adjacent cells using the same channel. For 2.4 GHz 802.11, there are only 3 non-overlapping channels.

        Good info

        802.11 can't support devices at the same distances / similar power as modern cellular networks.

        If you could solve the first point above, would that be a problem if open hotspots (or something similar) were ubiquitous?

        You'd still need long distance for low population areas, but there isn't a spectrum crunch out there. The spectrum crunch is where population density is high -- which is where large numbers of land-line connected wireless repeaters of some sort seem to be able to solve the problem.

        Admittedly, this is way outside of any kind of existing feasible business model -- but peculiar new problems seem like a decent place for peculiar new solutions.

        I am genuinely curious what you think -- I think it would serve us all well if we could figure out a workable solution.

        • If you could solve the first point above, would that be a problem if open hotspots (or something similar) were ubiquitous?

          Good luck solving soft handoff for a bus traveling at 45 km/h or 30 mph. It's the same reason cell phones don't work well on planes: they pass over too many cells per minute.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nxtw (866177)

          If you could solve the first point above, would that be a problem if open hotspots (or something similar) were ubiquitous?

          If a 802.11-derived network was designed to provide the features of a modern cellular network, it will retain little in common with 802.11. It's not possible to avoid centralized coordination of all access points; otherwise, you'd just be switching between different Internet connections every hundred feet or so.

          It's already possible to have low-powered base stations that are connected t

  • Over Hyped (Score:2, Interesting)

    by angelbunny (1501333)

    In a congested, high user area wouldn't the telephone companies be able to turn the power down on the cell towers and then add more towers closer together? This way you can get more users in a given space, right?

    I admit, I know little to nothing when it comes to radio waves, but I do know back in the 90's pre DOCSIS cable ISPs did not limit their users speed, or at least the ISP I was on. Often times the 'pipe' would fill up. The case and effect was slower bandwidth speeds for me but since it was on the ISP

    • by Eric Smith (4379)
      That's the correct solution, but the carriers will try to grab more spectrum first, since it's less expensive for them to add more antennas to existing cell sites than to build new cell cites.
    • Re:Over Hyped (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nxtw (866177) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:23PM (#29687787)

      I know radio is more complicated than that but if it worked and does work for cable ISPs then why can't it work for cell companies as well?

      Cable companies:

      • have almost 1 GHz of bandwidth, although much of it is used for TV. Wireless providers have much less; in some markets, some providers might only have 10 MHz.
      • have control of the coax/fiber on their network. If there's a problem that results in increased transmission errors, they can fix it. Mobile providers don't control the space between the base station and the mobile device, and can't tear down obstructions to the signal.
      • don't really have to deal with variable signal quality, like mobile devices do. When a mobile device's signal quality drops, error correction must be increased and/or the raw data rate must be decreased.
      • don't need to introduce additional latency to better handle errors, and don't need to retransmit dropped frames/packets as often.
      • can allocate more channels to data if necessary, especially as analog channels are eliminated and digital channels are moved to SDV.
      • can split a node so that fewer customers use the same shared channel(s), and can do so as many times as needed. Cellular providers can't build towers whenever they want.
      • can use the same channels on separate nodes with no effect between them. Adjacent cells on (W)CDMA-based networks can share a channel - but this increases the total noise, and will not result in the full bandwidth being available from all given cells. (It also results in reduced power levels, which means poorer service in areas with poor signal strength.)
      • don't have to deal with handoffs at all - a DOCSIS modem stays plugged in to the same line, and doesn't physically move to another location. Cellular networks support handoffs, and customers get upset when handoffs do not work.

      DOCSIS provides 38 mbit shared downstream iny 6 MHz. In optimal conditions, current HSDPA tech provides up to 14.4 mbit shared downstream using 5 MHz, and real world results will frequently be less than that.

  • scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eil (82413) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @07:48PM (#29687509) Homepage Journal

    'We are fast entering a world where mass-market mobile devices consume thousands of megabytes each month,'

    Which is not as bad as a few gigabytes a month. But definitely far, far worse than millions of kilobytes per month.

  • We'll fix the problem by keeping all those toys off the air much of the time. Laws will be passed such that if you so much as look at a wireless device while driving, it'll be confiscated.

    There. Problem solved.

  • Networks start to clog up and Americans will start being fed b.s. about 'needs' to manage network traffic despite the horrible scope of network bandwidth/proliferation in the US relative to other industrialized nations, namely Korea/Japan.

    ISP's stated they could double bandwidths at the cost of $6/home, but that option is easily avoided at the benefit of saving $6/home and blaming straw men.

  • by reiisi (1211052)

    Or, it should have been UWB, but Intel had to get their egos all tangled up in things and screw that one up.

  • Hello? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by plastick (1607981)
    The way it's supposed to work is the companies have more customers, which means more money, which means they expand the infrastructures. I mean, it's not complicated. This is business 101 stuff here.

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