Bringing Evidence to US Spectrum Policy

Verizon capacity margin

Almost everyone in DC has missed the dramatic change in spectrum needs. With the current spectrum, capacity is going up at perhaps 40%/year, per Verizon and AT&T. Demand is going up 15-25%year. (43 OECD countries 15% in 2021.)

Ergo – Carriers don’t need spectrum for years. More spectrum will l do almost nothing for US broadband deployment anytime soon. T-Mobile is already going to 99% 5G, 90% 100 Mbps. Verizon and AT&T have to match. How much more could they build?

There’s a massive amount of misinformation that is distorting policy. The three carriers have more capacity than they can sell almost everywhere. That’s why Verizon & AT&T are selling fixed wireless so hard.

I wrote this article because I bet more than half the speakers at John Mayo’s Spectrum Summit don’t understand this and think spectrum will significantly increase 5G deployment in the next 5 years.

Telcos pay Meredith Baker of CTIA $6,000,000 per year to persuade DC to give them more spectrum. She’s succeeded Jim Cicconi as DC boss of the 2+2=5 gang.

It’s easy to discredit any claim more spectrum will yield more 5G. Just ask the speaker, how much more will be built if we follow your recommendations? Watch them duck the question.


Verizon CTO Kyle Malady reported his capacity margin doubled between 2017 and 2021, without mid-band. That allowed Verizon to improve service while cutting capex. (left) Verizon engineers were able to increase capacity 40% per year, probably more as mid-band Massive MIMO continues to deploy. Going forward, mid-band is effectively doubling capacity, perhaps more.

Meanwhile, traffic growth has plummeted. 5 years ago, traffic demand was growing about 40% per year, as people watched more video. Today. most of us don’t have enough hours in the day to watch more video. Streaming figures are flat to down. Codecs continue to improve, reducing required bit rates.

Top analyst Stefan Pongratz calculates, “Spectrum allocations will be more than enough to support another 10x of mobile data traffic expansion by 2030.” Congestion will be rare for years; where it occurs, small cells are a relatively inexpensive solution.

<I have a great deal more data to add to this>

A major error on the Georgetown presentations

Chris Nickerson of Analysys Mason will present their work for lobbyists CTIA on mid-band spectrum. Analysys is a strong firm that usually gets facts right, but this report has a critical error. 2.5 GHz spectrum should be included as mid-band. T-Mobile has ~160 MHz of that spectrum and has the best mid-band 5G network in the country. It has comparable performance to the 3.5 GHz spectrum used by Verizon and AT&T. I could easily find dozens of references calling it mid-band.

I’m sure Nickerson can find some reference claiming mid-band begins at 3.3 GHz but he’s an analyst and should realize that’s totally inappropriate in this context. The conclusion of the report – that other countries have more licensed mid-band spectrum – falls apart if you include the 2.5 GHz.

Tom Power, a CTIA lobbyist, is also on the program. Carolyn Brandon, formerly at CTIA, leads off the program. I’ll let readers judge whether this is appropriate for an academic event and the implications for DC lobbying.

11 of 12 speakers have no experience with networks or engineering. No wonder DC gets it so wrong

John Mayo and Scott Wallsten are good economists. Most of the other speakers are experienced & well-known lawyers or economists. All sound like “experts” unless you are well informed about the facts. (Mike Dano is the best telecom reporter in the US, but it’s not his style to confront people at an event like this.)

5 years ago, before the mid-band spectrum auction, telcos needed more spectrum. 5G is designed for 100 MHz channels, which neither Verizon nor AT&T had. But once mid-band was deployed, the need for more spectrum changed fundamentally. Traffic growth fell by half in the last five years, altering the best policy.

I’m not as smart as some of the speakers here. But I have a huge advantage: I listen closely to people like CTO Malady and T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray.

Every event like this should have several people who actually know networks. Lawyers have a place, but the whole discussion would be different is a few technically knowledgeable people were included.

P.S. Please tell policy people the 5G Emperor has no clothes. Don’t believe the hype on Open RAN or low latency Edge networks either.

Posted in H, r.

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