Spectrum shortage threatens US mobile growth

The growth of America's mobile industry could be limited by lack of spectrum, according to the chairman of the FCC

"I believe that that the biggest threat to the future of mobile in America is the looming spectrum crisis," said Julius Genachowski in a speech to the CTIA wireless industry trade association convention in San Diego.

He added that consumers would benefit from the latest move by AT&T to open its network to Internet voice services such as Skype, and the partnership between Verizon Wireless and Google.

Last year an FCC spectrum auction raised more than $19bn for the US government. A block allocated for shared use with public safety officials did not sell, and companies are now eyeing that spectrum as a way of providing greater network capacity.

"We must promote more efficient use of spectrum," the FCC chairman said.

T-Mobile, part of Deutsche Telekom, is among the carriers seeking more spectrum to better compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone.

The industry's efforts to erect cellphone towers in communities have been stymied by local municipalities concerned that they are eyesores.

Genachowski said the FCC will soon introduce a deadline proposal to speed up the process, while taking into account local authorities' concerns.

Genachowski remarks come one day after industry announcements that would enable cellphone users to make cheap calls via the Internet, part of a wider effort to ensure that access providers do not discriminate between the types of content flowing over their networks.

"There shouldn't be any confusion," he said. "I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve Internet openness, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook."

The president of AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets, Ralph de la Vega, said at the convention, "We believe there is no abuse taking place and no need to burden the Internet with more regulations."

The FCC is already investigating why Apple has still not authorised the Google Voice app for use on the iPhone. Google has said that Apple rejected it, but Apple said it was still studying it because the application alters the iPhone's telephone functionality and user interface.

"We take Apple at its word that it is looking at it and hasn't made a decision yet," Genachowski said in a CNBC interview. "We encourage them to continue to look at it."

Google, the world's largest Internet ad broker, said it was teaming up with Verizon Wireless to co-develop multiple phones based on its Android operating system. Google's Voice application would be on the new phones.

Separately, AT&T, the exclusive carrier for Apple's iPhone in the US said it will allow Apple to enable the iPhone to run third-party Internet voice applications, such as Skype, which has welcomed the move.

“Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, consumers have downloaded and installed Skype on 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold," Josh Silverman, president of Skype. "We applaud today’s announcement by AT&T to open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype. It is the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skypers and the Internet itself. Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers.”

- Reuters

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