Moving forward on spectrum policy
Yesterday, Verizon Executive Vice President of Public Policy and General Counsel Craig Silliman discussed spectrum policy and the future of mobile connectivity at the International Institute of Communications conference in Washington, DC. Below are his excerpted remarks.
Every week companies take the stage and tell us how they are going to change the world. We’ll never be lost; we’ll have movies where and when we want them; we’ll have phones that read our minds; wearables that make us healthier; apps that find us true love; cars that drive themselves; smart dog collars; smart thermostats; drones.
But who is going to deliver on all those promises? We are. The companies represented in this room, and those like us, have built and will continue building the networks that deliver the promise of the digital world. Without those networks, all those promises are just blocks of plastic and lines of code. And we rely on those of you who are policymakers to create the environment that allows us to build. Only together can we continue to deliver and manage the extraordinary consumer demand for connectivity and everything that connectivity enables.
So how do we accomplish this? Let’s start by talking about spectrum. What kind of spectrum policy do we need to keep meeting consumer demand?
First, we need to continue the flow of spectrum. In most countries, including the United States, the federal government is the largest spectrum holder. Clearing and deploying new spectrum takes years – more than 10 years on average. In the U.S. a significant auction is planned for 2016, but after that no auctions currently are planned. That is a problem. Given the long time lags involved in identifying and clearing spectrum, policymakers must act now to ensure a steady stream of spectrum to meet consumer demand. This requires not only the normal process of identifying spectrum bands but also recognizing and addressing basic human behaviors and incentives that lead federal agencies to resist repurposing spectrum.
Second, we need to experiment with novel ways to utilize spectrum, including various forms of spectrum sharing. Verizon is actively engaged in the FCC’s efforts to develop a new approach to sharing federal government spectrum at 3.5 GHz, and it is encouraging to see policymakers thinking creatively about spectrum sharing. We need to continue to work on ways to share on both a geographic basis and a temporal basis. Sharing may be particularly important in higher frequencies, but at the same time, we must recognize that sharing is a tool that will be appropriate in some cases, but not all.
Third, in the U.S. we have benefitted tremendously from policymakers having the foresight to make spectrum available under flexible exclusive use terms. That needs to continue. Look, for example, at the 700 MHz and AWS spectrum now being used for 4G LTE services. These spectrum bands were first identified in the mid- to late-1990s as spectrum for 3G, but by the time it was available 4G was being launched. Fortunately, the FCC allowed the flexibility for the spectrum to be used where it was most needed – 4G. This approach allows more experimentation and faster deployment of new technologies.
Fourth, we need to continue to improve the utilization of the spectrum already in use. One example of this is the experimentation that various parties currently are doing with LTE Unlicensed. Significant amounts of data traffic already are offloaded from cellular networks to WiFi, and this will continue to be an important use of WiFi. But LTE-U has been developed as a more efficient way to utilize unlicensed spectrum. LTE-U interacts more efficiently with WiFi than WiFi often does with itself, so this new technology can benefit all users of unlicensed spectrum. We will need to continue to experiment with and invest in technologies like this going forward.
Finally, in parallel with all of these efforts in today’s spectrum bands, we need to begin planning for the next wave of wireless technology, 5G. Verizon kicked-off a 5G Technology Forum last month and we plan to begin trials on the technology next year. But 5G will present a new spectrum challenge for policymakers. For the first time we will see a new technology roll out that likely will not use the existing spectrum that ranges from about 600 MHz up to about 5 GHz that has been the basis of most mobile technologies to date.
Rather, 5G is likely to be built on higher frequencies where spectrum is not yet in the market for commercial use. It therefore will be important for industry and policymakers to begin working together early to identify, clear and deploy the necessary spectrum needed to develop 5G technology. We can’t afford to wait 10 years to identify and clear spectrum for 5G. If we do, it will delay by years the possibilities of the next generation of mobility.
Having discussed the need for more spectrum, let’s ask a more fundament…