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June 23, 2015
More Than 350 MHz of Additional Licensed Spectrum Needed to Meet Growing Demand for Mobile Broadband in U.S., According to Report by Brattle Economists

A whitepaper authored by Brattle principal Coleman Bazelon and senior associate Giulia McHenry finds that more than 350 additional megahertz (MHz) of licensed spectrum is needed by 2019 to support projected commercial mobile wireless demand in the U.S. Accordingly, the U.S. must increase its existing supply of licensed broadband spectrum by more than 50 percent over the next five years to support this projected growth.

Prepared for CTIA, The Wireless Association, the report updates the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2009 forecast that projected a licensed spectrum deficit of nearly 300 MHz by 2014. The updated analysis relies on current projections that demand for wireless broadband capacity will increase six-fold by 2019. The authors’ predictions suggest that approximately 40 percent of this new demand can be met by increased carrier investments in network technology and infrastructure. After accounting for these investments, the authors estimate that by 2019 net data demand will increase more than three-fold over 2014 levels.

The authors also point out that wireless operators have invested over $160 billion in infrastructure enhancements over the last five years, but even with additional spectrum, a similar financial commitment will be necessary to enhance and expand networks to help meet significantly higher data demand. Additionally, even if over 350 MHz is repurposed to mobile broadband in the next five years, that spectrum will not address the even greater demand expected in 2020 and beyond.

The report, “Substantial Licensed Spectrum Deficit (2015-2019): Updating the FCC’s Mobile Data Demand Projections,” is the latest in a series of whitepapers issued by CTIA on commercial mobile licensed spectrum. An earlier whitepaper by Drs. Bazelon and McHenry found that more than $400 billion in annual economic activity as well as the more than 1.3 million jobs is supported by the wireless industry.