Wireless users face 'spectrum crunch'

Feb. 21, 2012 at 1:53 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. mobile phone industry is running out of space on the airwaves necessary to provide voice, text and data to its customers, experts say.

The situation, dubbed "spectrum crunch," could lead to more dropped calls, slower data speeds and higher prices to consumers for cellphone service.

While the United States still has enough spectrum to go around, that could change as early as next year, the Federal Communications Commission estimates.

"Network traffic is increasing, driving up demand for mobile broadband," an official at the FCC's wireless bureau told CNN.

"Carriers are doing things to offset the increase in demand. They can manage it for the next couple years, but demand is inevitably going to exceed the available spectrum."

Consumption of wireless Internet services is skyrocketing as smartphone and tablet sales soar, but wireless spectrum -- the bands of frequencies over which all wireless transmissions travel -- is a finite resource.

"We got into this principally because technology and demand exploded at a rate that nobody had anticipated," Rory Altman, director of technology consultancy Altman & Vilandrie said.

Cellphone carriers have responded, attempting to limit customers' data usage by putting caps in place, throttling speeds and raising prices.

And things are likely to get worse for cellphone users before they get better.

"For a while we won't notice the quality of service changes, but over time as devices get better and use more data, we'll start to take notice," Altman said. "Consumers will notice it, and the burden will fall on the carriers to fix it."

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