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Mobile Communications

Only 10 months to safeguard the mobile internet?

This is a contributed article by Tom Phillips, Chief Regulatory Officer for the GSMA

It’s a bold statement, but we only have 10 months to secure the future of the mobile Internet.

In November 2015, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will host the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) in Geneva, where governments will decide whether to allocate the additional radio spectrum needed for the continued expansion of mobile broadband.

More spectrum allocations are vital for future mobile broadband growth. As worldwide mobile data use surges as a result of dramatic growth in take-up of mobile services and increasingly bandwidth-hungry applications, networks are facing a capacity crunch caused by a shortfall in spectrum available for mobile use.

According to research from Analysys Mason, UK demand for mobile data could be as much as 45 times higher by 2030 than it is today. Technologies like 4G are great enablers for services and applications such as streaming live sport, playing multiplayer games, downloading large files and supporting video conferencing, but these services are also bandwidth-hungry. New methods to increase spectral efficiency, the use of smaller cells (or cell splitting), and offloading can increase the network capacity to a certain degree, but not to the extent to cope with escalating demand for data.

Quite simply, without more available spectrum, mobile networks will not have the capacity to meet the surging data demands of consumers and businesses, while countries will miss out on the significant socio-economic benefits that mobile broadband can deliver.

Broadband communication is more pervasive than ever before. Compared to just a decade ago, we now have information at our fingertips 24/7 and are able to share experiences with friends in a matter of seconds. However, we also share the common experience of mobile network congestion. Trying to upload photos at a crowded concert, getting the latest train information at Waterloo station during rush hour – such everyday activities can be challenged by a slow response or even network timeout.

Why? Even though operators have rolled out mobile networks, built base stations, offloaded traffic and deployed the latest LTE technology to support ever-increasing data demand, there are limits to how much data can be transmitted over the same bandwidth pipes. So while we can’t predict the exact technology and services we will be using in even 10 years’ time, we can learn from the past and be certain in the knowledge that we will need more spectrum to meet consumers’ future mobile needs.

The GSMA estimates that an additional 600-800MHz of spectrum needs to be made available for mobile at WRC-15. Without international support, the services that rely on International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) are at risk. Some countries, such as Brazil, have already auctioned their last mobile spectrum identified for IMT use and there is no extra capacity available unless more IMT bands are identified at WRC-15.

Each market will need to balance the requirements of the different users of spectrum and to build flexibility into the way spectrum is allocated in the future at national level. For this, governments and regulators need a long-term vision. The spectrum we have now is the result of multi-stakeholder negotiations that took place years ago. To ensure there is sufficient spectrum for mobile in 2025, or even in 2020, we need to act now.

Everyone should have access to dependable, cost-effective mobile broadband. The mobile economy is instrumental in creating jobs, wealth and opportunities all over the world, and its future success hinges on the availability of spectrum. We therefore urge governments to allocate more spectrum for mobile use at WRC-15 to promote prosperity and improve the lives of their citizens.

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