Wednesday, August 06, 2014
CTIA Chief: It's All About Spectrum
BY SASCHA SEGAN
AUGUST 6, 2014 02:50PM EST
The new head of the CTIA sat down with PCMag and said the wireless carrier association has one big priority going forward--spectrum.
The CTIA is an odd bird. All of the major wireless carriers, as well as Apple, Motorola, BlackBerry, and Nokia all sit on its board, and the group has to regularly find something they all agree on.
It takes a lot of political skill to ride herd on such a fractious bunch, but new CTIA president Meredith Atwell Baker has that in spades. Originally from Texas, she's seen all sides of the communications debate—she worked in the Bush Commerce Department and the Obama FCC before making a controversial jump to Comcast, shortly after approving its merger with NBC.
Baker sat down with PCMag.com at our offices on Wednesday and made her new agenda clear.
"Our priority has been and will always be spectrum. There was a spectrum drought from 2008, and we have two crazy important auctions coming up. Our focus is on both of those auctions, making sure they go well, but also on what the next band is that the industry needs," she said.
Those two auctions, by the way, are this fall's AWS-3 in the 1.7 and 2.1Ghz bands, and next year's 600Mhz broadcast incentive auctions. AWS-3 will involve up to four small blocks of paired spectrum suitable for cellular networks, while the amount of 600Mhz spectrum up for grabs will vary.
"Our speeds have increased eight times since 2010, but the thing that's going to make them increase is more spectrum," Baker said.
To keep the pipeline flowing, the CTIA will need to become a resource which helps U.S. policymakers find and free up spectrum for commercial use, she said. She's working with the Department of Defense to convince military groups that shifting spectrum isn't too much of a chore, and she's hoping her experience at Comcast will smooth relationships with broadcasters during the upcoming 600Mhz auction.
"It has to work for everyone," she said. "My background comes from the NTIA, where we managed the government spectrum, and we're learning how to make these transitions easier. AWS-1 was hard. I'm looking at AWS-3, it's better, and it's easier."
Upcoming spectrum should ideally also be globally aligned, according to Baker.
"AWS-3 is incredibly valuable because it's internationally harmonized. We're in touch with our friends at the GSMA in terms of what advocacy we can do together, and we'll be looking at that together," she said.
As a wireless geek, I was impressed by Baker's passionate, complete knowledge of detailed spectrum issues. I actually had to recalibrate my questions a bit. Steve Largent, the former football hero who headed the CTIA for 11 years, was much more into policy topics, especially cutting taxes on wireless services. But Baker slings around spectrum allocations like a CTO.
Picking Her Battles She's still the voice of wireless carriers, though. Asked about the current Verizon-FCC tussle over throttling unlimited data plan users, she came down firmly on Verizon's side.
"All of our carriers have committed to an open Internet, but we need to talk about reasonable network management," she said. "One strand of fiber has more capacity than the entire electromagnetic spectrum that wireless runs on. If we want to deliver quality of service to our customers, for instance, a voice product that doesn't have latency, they have to be managed."
But Baker wouldn't be drawn in by FCC chair Tom Wheeler's crowing that "four national providers is good for American consumers," in the wake of the collapsed Sprint-T-Mobile merger. Back when she was on the FCC, she and co-commissioner Robert McDowell said that the FCC's role as it relates to mergers "has become excessively coercive and lengthy."
"We don't take any position on mergers. We are just grateful that so many people are interested in the American wireless market," Baker said.