Mobile network capacity demand is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years due to the continued growth of data consumption, new and innovative data uses enabled by 5G, and the evolution of 6G applications. However, with no clear prospects for significant spectrum reallocations this year and insufficient bands under consideration for reallocation in the coming years, the US’s spectrum landscape is not prepared to meet the projected demand.

In a new report, economists from The Brattle Group examine the capacity constraint and estimate the likely spectrum deficit the US will face over the next decade if policymakers do not allocate additional full-power, licensed spectrum.

“Spectrum repurposing is a difficult and time-consuming process, and unfortunately, there is not an adequate pipeline of spectrum anticipated to meet wireless demand today,” said Principal and Intellectual Property Practice Co-Leader Dr. Coleman Bazelon. “Our analysis gives a glimpse of the stunted wireless future if policymakers do not act.”

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • In five years, by the end of 2027, the US is expected to have a capacity deficit of over 10 exabytes/month. In 10 years, by 2032, this deficit could grow to approximately 17 exabytes/month.
  • Absent any new spectrum, by 2027, the US is expected to have a spectrum deficit of nearly 400 megahertz; this deficit could more than triple to approximately 1,400 megahertz by 2032.

“Our analysis indicates that, given the pace of the demand growth, technological solutions and deploying more cell sites are insufficient to ease the capacity constraint currently facing the US cellular networks,” said Principal and Telecommunications, Media & Entertainment Practice Co-Leader Dr. Paroma Sanyal. “Spectrum availability is the key to solving the capacity shortfall, and Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and other policymakers should work to allocate more spectrum for licensed mobile uses in a timely manner.”

The report, “How Much Licensed Spectrum is Needed to Meet Future Demands for Network Capacity?” was authored by Principals Dr. Coleman Bazelon and Dr. Paroma Sanyal and was prepared for CTIA.

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