Study confirms spectrum crunch for wireless

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“We must understand and accept the trade-offs we will face for the convenience of accessing limited wireless capacity," Kleeman said. "Alternatively, as citizens we need to dramatically lower our expectations for wireless services in the future.”

The report offers three strategies for addressing the problem, but none are without challenges. The first is to increase the amount of spectrum available for wireless, but the Federal Communications Commission is waiting on Congress to authorize voluntary incentive auctions of spectrum.

The broadcasters, who hold much of the spectrum the FCC is eying for future wireless networks, have voiced strong opposition to any auctions that aren't completely voluntary. Groups have also suggested the government should relinquish some of the spectrum under its control.

Another potential remedy would be for carriers to manage network traffic, essentially throttling certain types of traffic or implementing a metered pricing system, as wireless firms have begun to do recently, by capping the amount of data available to consumers each month.

The FCC's net-neutrality rules, which will take effect next month, ban carriers from discriminating between two similar sources of content. But the rules don't apply to wireless firms, so in theory carriers could choose to limit access to services that consume large amounts of data like YouTube or Netflix.

Finally, the report suggests the wireless industry can invest in more infrastructure such as cell towers and backhaul cables, but notes that doing so will require the support of the surrounding communities.

AT&T pledged to invest an additional almost $4 billion to build out its next-generation wireless network if its merger with T-Mobile USA is approved, but the deal is currently on hold thanks to a lawsuit from the Justice Department.

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