In Print: Volume 89: Number 3
Like Deck Chairs on the Titanic: Why Spectrum Reallocation Won’t Avert the Coming Data Crunch but Technology Might Keep the Wireless Industry Afloat
By Brian J. Love, David J. Love, & James V. Krogmeier
89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 705 (2012)
Americans have a seemingly insatiable appetite for wireless bandwidth. Global mobile data traffic has grown at an annual rate exceeding 140 percent each year since 2008, and it is predicted to increase another 26-fold by 2015. Spurred by increasing adoption of smartphones and tablet computers, growth in the U.S. has outpaced worldwide averages, with domestic wireless providers like AT&T reporting a 30-fold increase in traffic between 3Q 2009 and 3Q 2010 alone. For the foreseeable future, it seems, mobile data demands will continue their exponential growth as users increasingly access multimedia, especially long-form HD video, and other data-intensive applications via mobile devices.
Unfortunately, the capacity of the nation’s wireless networks is not infinite. According to wireless providers, within spectrum bands allocated for commercial broadband use, increased competition for scarce bandwidth among mobile users will eventually lead to service bottlenecks that degrade network performance or worse. With more and more wireless users clamoring for more and more bandwidth each year, wireless providers warn that the wireless industry will soon lack the spectrum resources sufficient to satisfy users’ demands, a looming “spectrum crunch” that many promise will stagnate an industry that grossed almost $160 billion in 2010.