Analyst Sees Spectrum Appetite Slowdown in CTIA Stats

Group's Exec Defends Numbers, Conclusion of Dramatic Rise in Usage

The National Association of Broadcasters Monday was pointing to an op-ed on GigaOM by Telecom, Media and Finance Associates president Tim Farrar suggesting the spectrum crunch wasn't as looming as the wireless industry makes it out to be.

In the piece, "The Myth of the Wireless Spectrum Crisis," Farrar takes aim at stats that CTIA: The Wireless Association released showing a 104% increase in consumer data traffic, saying that does not tell the whole story, a tale he says CTIA was trying to spin.

CTIA fired back that it was not spinning, and the stats do show a usage curve "that is shooting up dramatically."

Farrar says there was actually a "dramatic" slowdown in data traffic that was not reflected in the CTIA numbers because they were for 12 months, not six months, and suggests CTIA was trying to spin those numbers. He says for the first six months of 2012, growth was just 21%, down from 54% growth in the last half of 2011. On a per-device basis, he says, that is only a 3% increase in traffic, compared to a 29% growth between the first and second halves on 2011.

"CTIA doesn't want anyone to realize that, because it is significantly at variance with CTIA's narrative of an impending 'spectrum crunch' into which so much lobbying effort has been invested," he writes.

Dr. Robert Roche, CTIA vice president of research, who is responsible for the survey, fired back in a blog posting that any suggestion the FCC was trying to hide information was "categorically false and disingenuous."

"CTIA's interest is in fact-based analysis, not speculative and hyperbolic insinuations. The fact of the matter is that American's data usage did increase, whether you look at twelve-month or six-month increments," he blogged. "In the press release and on our website, we did change how we reported the MB of data, but only to make it parallel to how we reported the other traffic measures, not as six-month but as twelve-month volumes...[D]ismissing 'a so-called spectrum crunch' ignores not just a consensus in the U.S., it neglects the global nature of the analysis that calls for more commercial spectrum allocation around the world, to accommodate growing numbers of users and increasingly complex uses."

Broadcasters and the wireless industry have been in a tug-of-war over spectrum, with broadcasters arguing that there has been warehousing by some companies, and not enough emphasis on making more efficient use of the spectrum they already have. Cellular carriers say there is a crunch that could become a crisis if more spectrum is not freed up.

The FCC has teed up an incentive auction framework that will reclaim and auction up to 120 MHz of spectrum -- likely something south of that -- by 2014. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been charged with freeing up government-used spectrum and has found 96 MHz for repurposing and is now emphasizing spectrum sharing by government entities to free up more.

The president's and FCC's goal is to free up 300 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband within five years and 500 within 10 years.

Broadcasters will look for more info from the FCC on how it plans to reclaim spectrum and repack the remaining broadcasters into smaller space to free up contiguous bands in markets where spectrum is in short supply, primarily larger urban areas with lots of folks accessing content via mobile devices.