As more of us take up our hand held wireless devices Australian regulators should take notice of spectrum re-allocation issues currently being played out in the US.
The annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) that was held in Las Vegas at the beginning of January showcased the latest trends in consumer technology.
While reports that the exhibition featured a range of products from the Taser Shotgun, somewhat reassuringly only available to law enforcement officials, to induction powered Cheerios cereal box packaging, it was the huge number of scintillating smartphones, tablet computers and connected TVs that were the stars of the show.
The rise in popularity of wireless devices in the United States mirrors the growing appeal that these devices have with Australian consumers. In the US sales of tablet computers are beginning to cannibalise the laptop market with Forrester research predicting that there will be 75 million tablet computer owners in the US by 2015.
In Australia, the ACMA 2009-2010 Communications Report highlights ABS data that shows there were 6.8 million mobile handsets with a wireless internet connection in Australia as at June 2010. The report also notes that the share of mobile wireless broadband subscribers increased from 24 to 36% in 2009-10.
The CES showcased the future with tablet computers from most leading manufacturers including Dell, Samsung, RIM, Motorola, HTC and LG. But, behind the excitement it was the conference remarks that highlight the elephant in the room; and that elephant was spectrum, or lack of it.
Even though the United States completed the transition to digital television in 2009, the US is experiencing an ongoing tug of war between broadcast television networks who hold valuable spectrum and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who is exploring different ways to free up spectrum for the growing demand brought about by wireless technology.
The latest suggestion from the FCC relates to “incentive auctions”. The FCC hopes that TV broadcasters will come to the party and voluntarily part with spectrum and in turn receive some portion of the auction proceeds.
Statements from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to date are not that positive. It was reported that NAB Senior VP of Science and Technology, Lynn Claudy, drew the analogy between spectrum and cattle when commenting on the FCC’s proposals. She said to date FCC’s proposals were, “incentive auctions, which are like selling off part of your cattle, channel sharing, which is like piggybacking your cattle, and repacking, which is like packing your cattle closer together”.
In the US it seems that take up of wireless technology will continue to place pressure on the Government and broadcast industry. As Australia heads towards the proposed auction of the vacated spectrum currently used for analogue broadcasting in the second half of 2012 it will be interesting to see what, if any, incentives are needed to encourage current spectrum holders to hand over all of that spectrum in a time frame that continues to support the demand brought about by the increasing take-up of mobile digital devices.
Originally published on openforum.com.au