“If you are viewing this page, it means your mobile carrier has used its share of allotted spectrum. Please try again later.”
Would you panic? Cry? Take to the streets demanding to know why you weren’t warned of this possibly life-altering situation sooner?
In all likelihood, you’re wondering, “What the hell is allotted spectrum and why am I paying $90 a month for something that can run out?”
Fair questions all. Here are some answers.
The spectrum are the radio airwaves used to transmit signals to electronic devices. Cable television, the military and cell phone service providers use radio airwaves so you can talk, send email and watch silly YouTube videos on your tablet and smartphone. The radio in your car and office use them as well.
The federal government controls the spectrum and who gets a piece of it and how much. Now, it’s not like the spectrum is a small blueberry pie (mmm, pie) that has to be carefully sliced so everyone gets a piece. The radio spectrum is virtually limitless… until you get a lot of people trying to use the same radio waves at the same time. Think of It like a cafeteria line: everything is fine as long as people quickly make their selections and keep moving, but chaos breaks out as soon as someone can’t decide between blueberry and peach cobbler.
Cell phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T have been crying out for a larger part of the spectrum for a while now. They are all doom and gloom that if they don’t get more spectrum, things are going to fall apart. Those of you with teenagers know the melodramatic voice to which I’m referring. Yeah, it’s THAT serious. Sort of.
You see, this type of scenario has almost happened before. Several times, actually, but Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone points out, “We already know today what the solutions are for the next 50 years.” Verizon et. al know what these solutions are as well, but they would rather ask for more spectrum than develop the technology to better use the spectrum they already have.
Why? Good question.
First, they don’t want to spend the money on research, development and implementation. Second, and the more nefarious, yet honest explanation: The more spectrum they can use, the less spectrum there is for their competitors.
So what are these new technologies the carriers don’t want to invest in?
- New antennas: Improved antennas on towers, cell phones and tablets could increase signal strength and increase its reach.
- Techniques to move certain applications and activities off the spectrum an onto WiFi networks would free up quite a bit of the spectrum.
- Spectrum sharing: When one carrier or organization isn’t using part of its allotted spectrum, a phone or tablet could tap into that area and use it. Sharing would require some serious across-the-board cooperation.
Now, none of these new technologies would be super hard to implement, but carriers want to hold on to their monopolies and new technologies jeopardize that chance. Carriers are doing a disservice to their customers. New technologies could help not just the soccer mom checking her Twitter feed, the ambulance service that covers a tri-state area or help a fleet management company keep track of its drivers. These technologies are going to be developed. Cell phone carriers can either be part of the solution or part of the problem.