The Growing Demand for Spectrum

I’ve written a column for CNET on spectrum policy, “Meeting the need for spectrum,” addressing some of the arguments we hear about spectrum demand and supply. Some advocates insist that the demands of mobile broadband users for increased data capacity can be met without allocating the additional spectrum recommended by the National Broadband Plan, but that’s not realistic. While it’s certainly true that spectral efficiency has steadily increased for the past 100 years, the rate at which it increases is considerably slower than the rate at which demand is currently increasing. The rule for spectrum is “Cooper’s Law,” which stipulates a doubling of efficiency every 30 months. Contrast that with Moore’s Law forecasting a doubling of semiconductor capacity every 18 months and you see part of the problem. Factor in the demand growth that comes about as people trade in dumb phones for smart ones and you see the problem in full.

In the fairly near future, smart, mobile devices will become ubiquitous, and we won’t even recognize them as phones.  Cars will become rolling mobile networks, and we’ll have smart mobile devices embedded in our eyeglasses and clothing. Consider the IEEE Spectrum’s Technology of the Year for 2011, Laster Technologies Smart Spectacles.


Credit: Laster Technologies,

This is a wearable computer that projects images directly to the eye and captures images through a video camera on the nose piece, powered by a smartphone with Bluetooth. In years to come, products like this one will integrate the smartphone and function as standalone devices. You could be looking at the iPhone 10 circa 2020, a device distributed by optometrists.

In the face of the demand growth that such devices will bring about, it’s prudent to pursue every avenue that makes more capacity available to the user: Efficiency, construction, advanced technology, and spectrum, but there’s no substitute for spectrum.

Check out the CNET column at:

We’re going to have a panel discussion of these issues on Capitol Hill this Tuesday at noon, the event information is here:

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About the author

Richard Bennett is an ITIF Senior Research Fellow specializing in broadband networking and Internet policy. He has a 30 year background in network engineering and standards. He was vice-chair of the IEEE 802.3 task group that devised the original Ethernet over Twisted Pair standard, and has contributed to Wi-Fi standards for fifteen years. He was active in OSI, the instigator of RFC 1001, and founder, along with Bob Metcalfe, of the Open Token Foundation, the first network industry alliance to operate an interoperability lab. He has worked for leading applied research labs, where portions of his work were underwritten by DARPA. Richard is also the inventor of four networking patents and a member of the BITAG Technical Working Group.