Time to Do More With Less Spectrum

If you ever have questioned the willingness of both longstanding carriers and new market entrants to participate in this hotly competitive mobile broadband sector, spectrum auctions serve as occasional reminders of how many billions of dollars these companies are ready to spend even before they build networks, promote brands and compete head-to-head for customer attention.

Like many spectrum auctions before it, the 600MHz auction of broadcast spectrum, scheduled to start March 29, has generated its share of controversy from broadcasters and other current users of the spectrum. However, controversy, as usual, probably will not be enough to stop this auction process, for a simple reason familiar to all of us: Spectrum is a finite resource, and the massive, still-rapidly-growing mobile broadband industry needs more spectrum as it continues to innovate and advance toward the 5G era.

What we don't hear about nearly as much as auction controversies are efforts by that same mobile industry to develop technologies to maximize the utility and value of spectrum once bidders get their hands on it.

Self-interference cancellation technology, allowing full-duplex use of a single frequency channel, is one such innovation. Effectively doubling capacity is a pretty clear way to maximize the value of any spectrum bands operators put to use. Though the technology has been in development for some time already, we are likely getting closer to seeing its commercial debut, as evidenced by the attention garnered by full-duplex technology developer Kumu Networks. Numerous vendors are reportedly looking at how to integrate full-duplex into their current wireless network infrastructure solutions, and three carriers recently even took the unusual step of investing in Kumu to help the company see through its development. (See Mobile Ops Investing in Kumu's Full Duplex.)

If, as an industry, we funnel more money and labor into figuring out how to make more efficient use of spectrum, these efforts just might serve as a much-needed reality check regarding the overall market value of spectrum. A technology like full-duplex could even change how spectrum is currently auctioned, with the uplink/downlink division as a major factor. Maximizing spectrum capacity, and consequently maximizing the value of existing spectrum, could also lead to more sensible pricing in any sales of new spectrum -- which is bad news only if you're a company hoping to put a billion-dollar sales tag on your own spectrum.

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

— Dan O'Shea, Analyst, Network Transformation, Heavy Reading

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