back to article Mobile operators: US quake proves we need more spectrum

Operator body CTIA reckons that Tuesday's earthquake proves US operators need more radio spectrum – and quickly – despite the fact that much of the owned bandwidth lies unused. The call for more spectrum is an oft-repeated mantra, taken up by the US government (and echoed by the UK's), claiming that unless network operators …


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  1. Matt Piechota


    Really? I friend of mine couldn't call his daughter in Philly (from the Philly suburbs) for at least an hour. That sounds like a failure.

    1. Dagg

      You can have spectral spacing or geographic spacing

      Was it a failure of spectrum space or the fact that that the providers did not have enough cells? If they provided a lot of smaller cells it would have provided greater carrying capacity.

    2. ScottAS2

      letters and/or digits

      Are you sure she wasn't actually in Glasgow?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really?

      ... and how do you suppose more spectrum would have helped?

      It is perfectly possible to increase capacity without needing more spectrum.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of that old joke......

    How do you tell if a CTIA spokesperson is lying?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    attempts, not connected calls.

    "No wireless towers went down and no networks failed ... wireless networks processed the huge surge of communications attempts across the nation at rates massively higher than normal."

    It would be interesting to see a graphic showing the number of attempts/second and what percentage of them were able to be completed (notwithstanding the called number being busy/not answering).

    Even if you pick up the phone, enter a number and push Dial, you're counted as an attempt. Whether your call was completed is something else.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Failures during earthquake

    I was able to make a wireless-to-landline call within 5 minutes of the quake (in the Washington, DC area) it went through on the first try. WIreless-to-wireless calls were getting instantly dropped. About 20 minutes later, I had both a landline-to-wireless and a landline-to-landline call misrouted.

    It seems their systems aren't up to properly processing the volume of calls; they need to fix that before they cry for more bandwidth.

  5. Timo

    spectrum scarcity = solve one problem, create a bigger one

    This idea of spectrum scarcity is really a load of crap in the US. There are other ways to get around a capacity problem, shrinking the size of the cells being the best way to do it, not the first choice though from the business/cost perspective. You did do a good job of highlighting that there are loads of spectrum already assigned that are not built upon.

    The other problem with the current batch of existing spectrum, is that the spectrum is so fragmented that not much of that "real estate" is very appealing to the operators or the vendors. Sure, it is technically possible to build a network in some of these bands, but it will be a one-off semi-custom thing and the cost to develop/deploy will be much higher. Adding more spectrum to the mix will only make it more fragmented. When you are talking device/mobile market the "efficiencies of scale" really require that you work in tens of millions of handsets, if not hundreds of millions. Completely the opposite of a fragmented marketplace.

    I've seen so many of these network schemes that are stuck at the starting phase. The spectrum exists, but not the equipment, NOR the handsets, and the price that would need to be paid in order to get the vendors off the fence wrecks the operator's business model. Guaranteed non-starter.

  6. David Kelly 2

    Of course they "need" more spectrum ...

    AT&T would use the events in Libya to try to justify their "need" for more spectrum.

    I have always thought spectrum auctions were a mistake. The auctions should not *sell* spectrum but long term leases, say 10 years. Then at 5 years hold another auction and if the present holder doesn't win then at least they have 5 years notice to vacate.

  7. MurrayH

    CTIA is...

    The CTIA is simply a paid industry lobbying group now. At the beginning, it may have had a more altruistic and "public good" image, but that impression has clearly been erroded over time.

    Mobile operators can easily eliminate any bandwith challenges by other means, especially in times of emergencies. The fact that it was not necessary to throttle usage by type to provide voice services during an extremely unusual event is indicative of that fact.

  8. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    The problem is?

    What is the big deal?

    Funny how we somehow managed before mobile phones by using wires, an almost unlimited resources (subject to putting cables in) compared to the finite bandwidth of radio.

  9. James Woods


    No it doesn't prove anything other other than we aren't getting what we pay for.

    My monthly cell bill is around $140 (t-mobile). I have one phone and one wireless card. The wireless card can't make calls and transfers very little in data. The phone I barely use at all as well (alot because the coverage sucks).

    How do we all get in contracts with these companies and they can't service every single customer? I am not blaming one particular company for this but really? You lock customers into contracts and then you can't provide service to all of them at the same time.

    I guess they are using dialup technology where not all customers are to be on at the same time with ratios.

    I hope the lawyers get ahold of this. If cellphones are a human right (like the us government deems) and everyone must have one then everyone must be able to use them at the same time.

    Or we should begin to see ratio bills each month.

  10. DNSguru

    I was there

    As others have reported, I could not make calls reliably for quite a while. Calls to/from landlines were more likely to complete than calls to other cell phones.

    Stupid. It was just a 5.8. The shaking was large but mild, not violent or sharp. In California, we don't even pay much attention to those, let alone evacuate the frickin' Pentagon.

  11. Charles Smith

    Really a problem?

    It might be that lots of people were trying to make cell phone calls at the same time. Surely the solution that is to have smaller cell zones and more cell phone masts? This coupled with more backhaul bandwidth from the masts would deal with the problem.

    Ah a snag I see - it might cost the operators some money to fix the weakness in their infrastructure? Far easier to blame the federal government.

  12. Thomas 4


    Not exactly a ground-breaking story.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Your bill would be substantially higher...

    "How do we all get in contracts with these companies and they can't service every single customer? I am not blaming one particular company for this but really? You lock customers into contracts and then you can't provide service to all of them at the same time."

    It's the same with any utility - for example if everyone in a city suddenly turned on all the water taps in their houses you would not get the usual water 'service' - i.e. you might get no water or just a 'trickle'.

    If utilities had to put in place the resources to cope with the highest possible demand that may only happen very rarely you can guarantee your bill would be substantially higher.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Land lines?

    "Funny how we somehow managed before mobile phones by using wires, an almost unlimited resources (subject to putting cables in) compared to the finite bandwidth of radio."

    Except that is baloney - if everyone in a city picked up their land lines and went to make a call you can bet not all would get through. It's certainly more possible more would these days when it's all digital but not 'so' long ago when some of the exchanges were mechanical it would certainly have been a limitation.

    A cell tower is designed to cater for a certain volume of calls and 99% of the time it will be sufficient but if they had to enable every cell tower to cope with a maximum possible demand it would cost them much more - a cost they would pass on to us.

    For instance at a 'festival' for 99% of the year it is a field with sheep - for a few days a year you get hundreds of thousands of people going there - all wanting to use their mobile phones. The normal network would just not cope so they would probably bring in temporary cell towers to add capacity - but of course that requires planning - something not really possible with an earthquake etc.

  15. GettinSadda


    I have thought for many years that there needs to be a system where in an emergency all cell phones (other than those of emergency service workers and a few special cases such as blind users) are restricted to sending texts only.

    It may even be possible to either automatically queue outgoing texts, or use extra bandwidth for texts at these times.

  16. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Don't talk,

    just tweet. Then anyone who just wants to know you're OK, can.

    That is if you -are- okay, and if you aren't then you probably don't want your phone ringing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Couldn't text either

      I have verizon and after the quake I couldn't even send a text from where I was at

      (bout 30 mi from epicenter). Now let them tell me that was because of the spectrum

      they don't have. Text uses virtually no bandwidth. EPIC fail on infrastructure.

  17. Tom 35 Silver badge

    The bankers all got free handouts

    The phone company want theirs now.

    1. Galidron


      You mean the phone company want's more handouts. In the US they have had more than any bank.

  18. 2cent

    open network might be a better answer

    As always, the answer for a surgeon is a knife. The answer for centralized thinking, is more centralized thinking.

    Maybe a program, literally code, should be on every network device allowing bounce from on device to the next. If your device becomes the network, then communication continues, albeit strained, until failed systems can be brought back up.

    Why this isn't so, I don't know. But it would be great to have some redundancy over none in an emergency situation.

    It could even be a volunteer program, download to support national/local infrastructure. A sort of "do your part for your fellow citizen" thing.

    1. Goat Jam

      You mean like this?

  19. Charles Manning

    More spectrum == more shite

    People need to understand the need to reduce their communications usage during times of crisis to allow more important comms to get through.

    Just adding bandwidth does not fix the problem. All you'll end up with is people flooding the capacity with HD video instead of tweets and internet traffic.

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