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ITU Backs Effort To Add Mobile Broadband Spectrum

Add the head of the International Telecommunications Union to those who are arguing for more spectrum for mobile broadband.

The Obama administration and the FCC got international support for their mobile broadband push in the form of a statement from ITU Secretary General Dr. Hamadoun Touré Friday.

He said that governments around the world must act now to promote mobile broadband, roll out fiber, and find more spectrum if it is to avoid "network bottlenecks." That came the same week the Obama administration and the FCC stumped for the exact same thing.

"Robust National Broadband Plans that promote extra spectrum and the faster roll-out of the fibre networks which are essential to mobile backhaul are vital to support the growing number of data-intensive applications," Touré said in a statement.

"Mobile operators have been investing billions to upgrade and improve the capacity and performance of their networks," he added, "but in some high-usage cities, such as San Francisco, New York and London, we are still seeing users frustrated by chronic problems of network unavailability."

Sounding a lot like either an FCC chairman or the head of the wireless telephone lobby, Touré said: "Smartphone users already consume on average five times more data capacity than users of ordinary mobile phones. With the number of smartphones set to rise from today's global estimate of 500 million handsets in use, to almost two billion by 2015, operators are already having to employ multi-pronged strategies to keep up with demand - and not all are succeeding."

Last year, Touré created the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to push for worldwide broadband promotion and deployment. Among the committee members is FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has certainly been doing his part, stumping for more spectrum for mobile broadband at every opportunity, aided this week by President Barack Obama's roll-out of a national wireless initiative to fund mobile broadband to 98% of the country within five years.

The commission produced a report to the U.N. last September which recommended that to build a virtuous cycle of broadband development, governments not limit market entry, tax broadband "too heavily," and must "ensure ample availability of spectrum to support mobile broadband growth."

ITU is scheduled to hold its next world conference in January 2012, and ITU indicated Friday that it expected increasing mobile spectrum allocations would be a big issue at the conference. That would include securing more contiguous blocks of spectrum, and more flexible use.

"Some views are that access to unused broadcast spectrum - so-called ‘white spaces' - might help alleviate the spectrum squeeze," ITU said in a statement. "The ‘digital dividend' of spectrum freed up by the progressive global move to digital radio and television seems certain to be high on the agenda of national delegations when they convene in Geneva for the four-week-long [conference].

U.S. wireless companies were happy to have the international support.

"As we have been saying for a long time now, there is a brewing spectrum crisis and the ITU joins a long list of well-respected organizations confirming this," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, VP, regulatory affairs, for CTIA: The Wireless Assocaition. "In order to avoid bottlenecks, we must bring more spectrum to market. Now with the support of the UN and the efforts of the President, FCC, NTIA and policymakers, let's work to make spectrum available to continue this ‘virtuous cycle' of innovation and competition so the U.S. remains the world's leader."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.