Give the Spectrum Some Breathing RoomMay 24, 2012
As America’s demand for constant, on-the-go access to wireless data increases—some providers have seen their data traffic double every year since 2007—the crunch on the wireless spectrum that delivers that data continues to be a problem, and the FCC needs to do more to guarantee access to bandwidth for wireless providers. Recently we focused on the problems spectrum crunch poses for consumers, and today we’d like to focus attention on some devices that are often overlooked in this discussion—the growing machine-to-machine (M2M) network.
The Internet of Things
Spectrum crunch has been felt and will continue to be felt by consumers—mostly in the form of dropped calls, slow data rates, and inability to connect to place a call. But there’s a silent (well, silent to most people) network of M2M devices that wirelessly transmit data back to central computers, which interpret that data to make adjustments, reorder supplies, or dispatch repair crews. This M2M network has been referred to as the Internet of Things, and these devices are used throughout nearly every industry in the US, and include the Smart Meters being installed in some test markets as well as digital billboards that can instantly update to reflect time-of-day campaigns or quickly-updating information.
For the trucking industry, M2M includes the onboard computers (OBC) found in many trucks, which transmit data about routes, mileage, and drive times back to applications like XataNet and Xata Turnpike. Working behind the scenes, these devices allow for the seamless collection of data that helps fleet managers improve their efficiency and cut down on the costs of doing business.
While the entire M2M industry is affected by spectrum crunch, the trucking industry’s M2M needs are a little unique. Because trucks are always on the road, they need steady, reliable access to a stable cellular wireless network at any given time from any given point in the country.
Guaranteeing access to the wireless spectrum
Steve Largent, the president of CTIA and the keynote speaker at the upcoming Xata User Event in August spoke recently about the need to guarantee bandwidth for M2M. “Spectrum is a finite resource. It must be used in the most efficient and effective means possible. With a number of license holders that are sitting on unused or underutilized spectrum, they must either become more efficient users or their spectrum should be auctioned so those who want to purchase and use it may do so.”
The FCC, which oversees the wireless spectrum, has released a National Broadband Plan that calls for an increase in the available wireless spectrum by 500 MHz by 2020, but CTIA has called for a more aggressive push toward this goal, emphasizing the need to get to 500 MHz within the next 8 years. Plans are already underway to free up spectrum that the federal government controls but doesn’t take full advantage of, and many wireless providers are working to swap underused sections of their spectrum in exchange for access to larger, nationwide bandwidth.
The uncertainty surrounding how the FCC deals with spectrum crunch affects the many developers of M2M devices, nearly all of which operate on the 2G wireless network. Given the crunch on the already jam-packed 3G network, some developers are considering shifting their M2M devices straight into 4G, rather than developing for the 3G market. But developing for the 4G network is significantly more expensive, and device manufacturers would be well-served by any changes that free up bandwidth on 3G networks.
Spectrum crunch affects both the everyday consumer as well as the industries that rely on access to ever-growing streams of data. The FCC needs to do everything it can to make sure that the wireless spectrum is being used efficiently and to greatest capacity.