FCC: Spectrum could be worth $120 billion due to “iPad boom”

The FCC late Thursday put out a forecast (PDF) for the wireless future that pointed to spectrum auctions being much more expensive in the future. The US agency expected 3G and 4G data to surge 35 times higher in the next five years and need another 300MHz of spectrum that would cost $120 billion. The value is more than twice as much as what was paid for extra frequency access in 2008.Chairman Julius Genachowski suggested that the increase in use might be conservative, since the results that underpinned the conclusion appeared ahead of the “iPad boom,” he said. Most iPad wireless use is limited to Wi-Fi, but it’s believed that the rise of the category and 3G-first tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab may increase cellular use. The larger screens are usually more conducive to video streaming and frequent browsing.

Ultimately, the FCC would need to add another 200MHz in another five years after the initial boost, the study said. Genachowski warned of a “spectrum crunch” that could hurt American ingenuity and let other countries take the lead.

The agency lead has repeatedly warned of a “spectrum gap” looming ahead but until now hadn’t put a price on the expansion. FCC officials have been scrambling to clear space unused or lightly used airwaves in different areas, including unused TV spaces and satellite access. Some frequencies such as white spaces in TV are being repurposed for free-to-use long-range wireless, but carriers have been pushing for more spectrum as they plan to switch over to 4G and expect much heavier data use.

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