FCC Uses iPad Debut to Call for More Mobile Spectrum

Apple Inc. (AAPL) says it sold more than 300,000 iPads over the weekend, and the FCC is using the release of the much-hyped device to strengthen the call for more spectrum for mobile broadband.

In a blog late last week, the FCC’s Phil Bellaria and John Leibovitz said that because the iPad mostly relies on Wi-Fi connections, the national broadband plan’s recommendation that more spectrum go to communications service providers is on target.

“Before long, we’ll have an idea about what the iPad’s impact on spectrum use will be,” wrote Bellaria, director of scenario planning for the Omnibus Broadband Initiative and Leibovitz, deputy chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. “But we shouldn’t wait. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan has outlined the fundamentals of a bold spectrum policy for the future. It includes short-term steps, such as carriers building out 4G networks, more cell phone towers, and migrating to more efficient equipment. But long-term, it’s clear that we’ll need to act on the plan’s call for more spectrum.”

The proposal has been met with some protest by television broadcasters; those entities could lose some of their airwaves if the FCC gets its way. The problem is, data-greedy devices – most of all, Apple’s iPhone – are gobbling up mobile data at rates operators have trouble accommodating. Exclusive iPhone carrier AT&T Inc. (T) has come under much criticism for slow 3G speeds in metro areas including San Francisco and Manhattan. And with estimates showing that the iPad will use about 65 percent as much network capacity as the iPhone, the issue grows even larger. Why, iPhone users have grumbled – and iPad consumers may well chime in – should we pay for pricey devices and data plans if carriers can’t keep up with demand?

It’s a fair question and the FCC says the answer lies in mobile spectrum re-allocation, especially now that products such as the iPad promise to keep pushing data into unprecedented realms. It’s important “that we don’t get stuck in 1997 dialup-style congestion,” wrote Bellaria and Leibovitz.

Apple started selling the iPad on April 3. Analysts are saying that sales have exceeded Apple’s reported numbers; they’re projecting that between 600,000 and 700,000 went out the doors over Easter weekend.

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