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Releasing airwaves for use by wireless companies is the most important step to meet soaring demand for mobile data service, a trade group that represents carriers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. (T) said.
Advances in technology to share airwaves “have yet to produce a commercially viable solution” to averting a potential spectrum shortage, Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, said at a congressional hearing today.
The hearing before a House technology subcommittee was called to examine airwaves use, said Ben Quayle, the Arizona Republican who leads the panel.
President Barack Obama’s administration is working to free airwaves to avert what officials have called a “spectrum crunch” if wireless network capacity can’t meet demand from data-hungry smartphones and tablet computers such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad.
Wireless carriers are moving to acquire spectrum as the government decides its course. Today, largest U.S. mobile provider Verizon Wireless, seeking to gain Federal Communications Commission approval to buy airwaves from cable companies, said it will sell some of its spectrum licenses if it can complete the purchase under scrutiny from regulators.
The U.S. government should remove users from an airwaves swath that the administration proposed for sharing with commercial users, Guttman-McCabe said.
The Defense Department wants to use those airwaves for services including satellite tracking and sending and receiving data, according to a report by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce Department arm that oversees federal spectrum use.
The agency, in a March 27 statement, said it was proposing “a new path forward” by “relocating federal users and sharing spectrum between federal agencies and commercial users.”
Guttman-McCabe said that “spectrum clearing,” or removing U.S. users so wireless carriers have access to a wide swath, “represents a substantially better path.”
Congress in February approved auctions of unused television airwaves for use by wireless services, another step aimed at alleviating a spectrum shortage. The FCC is working to devise auction rules and may have proposals ready later this year, Julius Genachowski, the agency’s chairman, told a broadcasters’ convention April 16.
Airwaves released through the auction “will only represent a down payment” toward spectrum needs, Guttman-McCabe said.
Verizon Wireless, No. 2 AT&T Inc., T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Communications Inc. (PCS) are all seeking to boost their spectrum holdings. AT&T failed in an effort to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion last year, citing spectrum as one of the main reasons for the deal.
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