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AT&T's Randall & Stankey: Wireless Data Growth Half The FCC Prediction

Dave Burstein

John Stankey, President and CEO, AT&T: "Data consumption right now is growing 40% a year."40%, not 92%-120%. "Data consumption right now is growing 40% a year," John Stankey of AT&T told investors and his CEO Randall Stephenson confirmed on the investor call. That's far less than the 92% predicted by Cisco's VNI model or the FCC's 120% to 2012 and 90% to 2013 figure in the "spectrum crunch" analysis. AT&T is easily a third of the U.S. mobile Internet and growing market share; there's no reason to think the result will be very different when we have data from others.

With growth rates less than half of the predictions, a data-driven FCC and Congress has no reason to rush to bad policy. Wireless technology is rapidly moving to sharing spectrum, whether in-building small cells, WiFi, White Spaces, Shared RAN or tools of what the engineers are calling hetnets — heterogenous networks. The last thing policymakers should do is tie up more spectrum for exclusive use; shared spectrum often yields three to ten times as much capacity.

Bad compromises on the video spectrum are unnecessary because plenty of spectrum is unused. That includes the 20 MHz that M2Z would be building out today if Julius hadn't blocked them; the 20 MHz the cable companies are sitting on and want to sell to Verizon; and the 30 MHz or so Stankey identifies as fallow at AT&T.

40% growth is still substantial, but wireless technology is improving at a breathtaking pace. LTE has about 10x the capacity of 2.5G and 4x the capacity of 3G. LTE Advanced, deploying beginning 2013 at Verizon, is designed for 10x the capacity of LTE. Putting more spectrum to use would be great, but let's do it right.

Wireless speeds are actually going up dramatically, with AT&T delivering 2-5 megabits to most of the country and Verizon's LTE delivering 5-12 megabits to 2/3rds of the population. Verizon is ahead of schedule to bring 5 megabits+ to 92% of the country in 2013 and 96-98% in 2015-2016. AT&T and Sprint have raised capex to catch up. 80%+ of the U.S. will have a 5 megabit offering in 2013-2014, 90%+ by 2015 or sooner. That's without any additional spectrum.

Today's wireless networks are designed to be shared: towers, WiFi, White Spaces, DAS and small cells all working together. The best engineers in the world are working on RAN sharing, SON, hetnets, 8x8 MIMO and techniques I'm writing about in my next book, Gigabit Wireless. AT&T in fact is one of the world leaders in DAS, WiFi and femtos and behind the scenes a key thought leader. There's wonderfully exciting stuff I'll be doing my best to translate for non-engineers.

Takeaway: The future is sharing the airwaves so let's get the policy right.

By Dave Burstein, Editor, DSL Prime. Dave Burstein has edited DSL Prime and written about broadband and Internet TV for a decade.

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Mobile, Policy & Regulation, Telecom, White Space, Wireless

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