How much spectrum do wireless carriers need?
The answer from almost every speaker at this month’s Canadian Telecom Summit seemed to be, “You can’t count that high.”
Whenever executives of operators, equipment makers or consultants spoke, the message was the demand for wireless will continue to soar in the near future.
It started from the opening keynote from Rogers Communications Inc. president Robert Bruce, who said the demand for wireless is “unprecedented.” In the United States regulators are looking at making 500 MHz of spectrum available less than five years after the last spectrum auction, he said.
It ended with the last speech of the conference, with BCE Inc. CEO George Cope predicting that unless Ottawa acted, one of the three national wireless carriers won’t be able to buy enough spectrum in the next auction to deploy a next generation LTE high speed wireless network.
In between there were panels on LTE and spectrum demand that kept the message up.
“What we’re seeing at Rogers is a phenomenal consumption of mobile spectrum capacity on our mobile network,” Dawn Hunt, vice-president of regulatory affairs told a panel.
“Tablets we know generate five times more data than the average smart phone, and m-to-m (machine-to-machine) modems and tablets are expected to account for a significant proportion of traffic up to 2015.”
Speaking later in the conference, Wind Mobile chairman Anthony Lacavera cited a SeaBoard Group report that showed Rogers, Bell and Telus have more unused spectrum now than most carriers larger than them in other countries.
All gone ‘this decade’
But Hunt said that Rogers’ projections show it running out of spectrum “this decade” – the actual date is in a confidential report to Industry Canada from the carrier on spectrum demand, she added.
“I know there’s a lot of detractors saying we have too much spectrum,” Hunt said, but when Rogers looks at its plans for the coming years, all of it is accounted for.
In fact one questioner from the audience reminded Hunt that most of the 105 MHz of AWS spectrum carriers bought in 2008 hasn’t been deployed yet.
Rogers bought its AWS spectrum intending to use it for LTE, Hunt replied. At the time there were no LTE mobile devices for that. Now, she said, “we are using the spectrum. We will use more.”
Dean Brenner, vice-president of governmental affairs at chipmaker Qualcomm Inc., told the same panel that it is “indisputable” that Canadian carriers are facing the same spectrum crunch as other carriers around the world. Mobile broadband demand is fuelled by more than just Netflix, the over-the-top movie and TV provider, he added. Demand is also coming from industries like healthcare, education and public safety.
One thing that might help ease the pressure, he said, is technology that uses the 1.4 GHz spectrum to give supplemental download capacity, a concept Qualcomm is pushing in North America and in Europe.
For his part, Allison Lenehan, chief strategy officer at fixed wireless provider Xplornet Communications Inc., pleaded for rural-specific spectrum. Xplornet is in the early stages of rolling out its WiMax network and will soon launch satellites to cover areas with low population.
Dave Caputo, CEO of traffic management equipment maker Sandvine Inc., said data gleaned from his company’s service provider customers suggest real-time entertainment including videos and games consumes half of wired and wireless bandwidth. In Latin America, he added, Facebook is bigger than YouTube among wireless users.
Earlier in the day at a panel on LTE, officials from network equipment makers couldn’t hold back predictions of future wireless demand. There are about 30 carriers offering LTE now, but by the end of 2012 that will leap to 92, drawn by the technology’s ability to provide an all-IP voice and data network.
Over the next five years operators will need to increase wireless network capacity by 10 times, said Dragan Nerandzic, Ericsson Canada’s chief technology officer.
Not so, retorted Petri Lyytikainen, CTO of Nokia Siemens Networks, who said his company believes wireless operators will need 1,000 times more capacity in the next decade.
Carriers will soon be able to offer peak wireless speeds of 1 Gbps, he said, but by 2020 they’ll need to offer 10 Gpbs. And while LTE now offers latency of 10 milliseconds, that will have to come down to 1 ms.
Globally, “we need 10 times more spectrum. Ten times more spectrum can be made avaiable if we so want,” he said, if there’s government co-operation.