Can We Avoid the Mobile Bandwidth Drought?

Smartphones, our addiction to mobile apps, and broadband gluttony are all putting us on a path to wireless broadband scarcity. We’ve all experienced it on our Smartphones: long waits for buffering videos, apps that hiccup when your Net connection cuts out, and WebPages that take forever to load. According to experts, what we are experiencing are hints of an impending wireless broadband drought.

Can we avoid that?

In my opinion, No. Spectrum is a finite resource, and there seems to be an infinite demand.

There are also limits to how much data we can cram into a given amount of spectrum, which are based on laws of physics. Current technologies are approaching those theoretical limits, so any gains there will be incremental, at most.

Barring any unexpected breakthroughs, we are pretty close to maxing out.

Yes, we can kill off a few more older technologies to free up spectrum (like we did with analog TV), but still, there’s not much left to kill off. For example, we can do the same with AM & FM radio, but there isn’t much spectrum there to grab.

The next real opportunity is the expensive route – creating more capacity with existing wireless networks by building smaller cells and lots more base stations. That’s expensive, and the NIMBY factor only makes it more so. There are practical limits in THAT direction, too. There’s a bit of satellite spectrum that might be used for terrestrial networks, but again, there’s not much, and it’s not really very good spectrum for that purpose.

Things are going to get interesting, and “unlimited data” for consumers is very much on the endangered species list.

We’d better get used to it.

We live in interesting times! We have assumed that bigger & better is always possible, that there are no limits to what we can do. Well, there are, and we’re pushing them. People are going to have to adjust their expectations.