updated 06:05 pm EDT, Mon October 26, 2009
Genachowski says mobile data in crisis
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a talk published today warned that mobile data is facing a "spectrum gap" that could significantly damage Internet access on cellphones. He considers the iPhone a leader in a wave of devices that are straining 3G networks enough to create severe accessibility problems and that the FCC is considering "more creative" steps to solve the problem. Among these steps may include exploiting unlicensed spectrum or even allowing second licenses that have two companies share the same frequency.
The lack of shared or readily available spectrum has been a particular problem for AT&T and T-Mobile in recent months, though for alternate reasons. Until this year, most of AT&T's 3G network could only use the narrow 1,900MHz band and was promptly disrupted upon the iPhone 3G's launch, when the sheer volume of data quickly oversaturated the network. It wasn't until AT&T began retrofitting its network to use 3G on 850MHz that problems began clearing in key cities like New York City or San Francisco.
T-Mobile in turn has been forced to use the unusual 1,700MHz band for its 3G and so has required that carriers develop separate versions of phones just to accommodate its own technology. The lack of alternative spectrum also poses a problem in the long run for the provider.
Some of these problems are expected to clear once 700MHz 4G data begins rolling out from 2010 through Verizon and later AT&T and most other US carriers.
Alongside his touching on spectrum issues, Genachowski partly clarified the FCC's stance on mobile networks for BusinessWeek and said that what constitutes fair network management on mobile networks will likely vary significantly from landlines to where it may vary by the network itself. He also acknowledged that the US government's $7 billion national broadband stimulus likely won't be enough by itself and that expanding the reach of fast Internet will likely require incentives to make private investments.