GSMA Mobile Asia Congress: FCC on how to deal with Spectrum Crunch; Facebook expects next 1B users to be mobile!

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski expressed concerns about the “spectrum crunch,” which may impede the development of mobile broadband in the U.S. Speaking in Hong Kong at the GSMA Mobile Asia Conference, Mr.Genachowski outlined the FCC’s initiatives to help mobile broadband develop in the U.S. and potentially beyond.

With huge increases in mobile connections, mobile broadband subscriptions and devices putting pressure on networks, Genachowski said the problem of spectrum demand outstripping supply is “the most immediate threat to a successful mobile future.”

“We need to tackle the looming spectrum crunch by dramatically increasing the amount of spectrum available for mobile broadband. The FCC has made recovering spectrum one of our highest priorities,” he said.

The FCC’s national broadband plan includes spectrum recovery goals to return 500MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband in the US by 2020, including proposed two-sided spectrum auctions in which existing spectrum licence holders contribute unused spectrum and take a share of the revenue created by its reallocation.

Genachowski said this plan, under consideration by US lawmakers, could potentially free up 100MHz of spectrum and generate US$25 billion for the US Treasury. “This is the biggest single step we can take to free up the biggest blocks of spectrum,” he said.

Other approaches the FCC is looking at include dynamic spectrum sharing, the creation of a second-hand spectrum market, and offloading data onto Wi-Fi networks to reduce pressure on mobile networks when hotspots are available.

The FCC has made mobility a universal service goal for the first time and is also making it easier for operators and infrastructure companies to provision mobile broadband. “The commission has made it a priority to identify and remove barriers to broadband infrastructure build-out,” Genachowski said. Steps include reducing the cost of attaching wired and wireless equipment to utility poles and allowing spectrum to be used for wireless backhaul, which will help with LTE provision in rural areas.

Genachowski also acknowledged that operators need a meaningful return on their extensive investment in mobile broadband – so the FCC has permitted cellcos to operate tiered pricing that reflect usage levels.  All but Sprint have taken advantage of “pay for bandwidth consumed.” 

Looking beyond the U.S., Genachowski said the FCC is keen to work with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to make progress on issues to do with free movement of data across borders to unleash the potential of cloud computing for mobile. “We must also prioritise and set global targets. We need to all work together to find spectrum globally to tackle the spectrum crunch,” he said.

Also at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress, Facebook said it expects mobile to be the main source of its next billion users as smartphones become more powerful and the value of adding social tools to devices is realised. “We expect our next billion users will come primarily on mobile,” Facebook VP for partnerships and corporate development Vaughan Smith said this morning in Hong Kong.

“We see people talking about all of the capabilities of the device that are out there. When we look at what we should be talking about, we think that mobile is much more powerful when you add social. And we think the confluence of those two trends are the most important thing going on in technology over the next ten years,” he added.

Facebook currently has 350 million of its 800 million users around the world accessing the service on mobile devices, with twice as many actual visits coming via mobile devices rather than desktops. And mobile is expected to become much more significant in the coming years.