Wireless industry eyes even more airwaves

The wireless industry is preparing for two airwave auctions over the next year but looking for more opportunities to buy airwaves to make sure cellphone networks can handle the growing demand for smartphone traffic.

“In order for us to stay the global leaders in this industry, we’re going to have to have more spectrum,” Meredith Atwell Baker — CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association — said during a press event Tuesday.

Baker joined CTIA — which represents wireless companies including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — as President earlier this month. 

“Our top priority is spectrum and it always will be,” Baker said Tuesday.

Over the next year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold two auctions to sell airwaves, including the highly-anticipated incentive auction, which will involve the agency buying back airwaves from television broadcasters and reselling the airwaves to wireless companies.

Baker — a former FCC Commissioner who has worked at Comcast and CTIA in the past — said CTIA’s members are “going to be there with big checkbooks” for the next two auctions.

She added that wireless companies will help educate television broadcasters as they consider keeping, selling and sharing their airwaves.

Despite her optimistic projections for the incentive auction, Baker said she is already eyeing new opportunities for auctioning off airwaves.

“We need to think beyond 2015,” she said, adding that she wants to “have other incentive auctions.”

“We want and we need to start these conversations now.”

Baker pointed to CTIA’s annual survey, which came out on Tuesday.

According to the survey, wireless companies have “handled more than 3.2 trillion megabytes of data in 2012, a 120 percent increase from the pervious year” and an increase of over 700 percent from 2010.

To meet the growing demand for wireless capacity, wireless companies and federal agencies that have spectrum — such as the Defense Department — should free up available spectrum and use their spectrum efficiently.

“I think that a spectrum report card would … keep people’s feet to the fire,” she said, proposing that government spectrum users report on their airwave holdings and usage.

“We want to make sure that we’re using our spectrum as efficiently as possible,” she said.