What is this "wireless crunch"?


People have been talking about the "wireless crunch" or "spectrum shortage" for a number of months, if not years. Within the past six months or so, there's been an even bigger push on this issue (or group of issues). But what impact does this nebulous wireless crunch have on you? Well, if you have used a wireless connection in a busy cafe, or have ever tried to use your data at the edge of your provider's range, you have had a taste of what may be in store for our future.


As our demand for wireless data increases, the amount of bandwidth available for that demand does not change and is predicted to run out (in the U.S.) within the next two years. As history has shown, such shortages lead to increased prices, decreased quality, and potential rationing (or throttling/capping). This ends up leading to unhappy people complaining about how slow their internet is.


The crux of the issue is that there is a small, finite radio band on which all wireless communications broadcast and a lot of people needing and wanting access to that band. (CNET has a good write up, if you want to read more about it.)


How are "we" solving the wireless crunch?


In the end, the only real solution is more bandwidth or finding a new way to transmit data outside of radio waves (hello, quantum networking). We can reduce the amount of data we put out on the selected spectrum via technological improvements and changes, but that's more of a short term solution.


Here's what's been happening so far (this is a mostly U.S.-centric):

  • The U.S. government made headlines mid-February when it finally passed legislation to allow the FCC to auction off some more of the wireless spectrum to carriers.
  • The U.S. government has been contemplating reallocating spectrum from the broadcast band, which might be what they're auctioning off.
  • The U.S. government is also thinking about finding a way to share military bands with commercial wireless needs.
  • Additions to the wireless standards, such as WiGig, to move specific needs, like peripheral communications, off the main wireless band.


How does this actually affect me?


Hopefully it won't affect you, but based on the speed of government and the speed of new technology adoption, it probably will.


Obviously, the use of mobile devices is what is behind this strain. As we are an increasingly mobile and connected society, (who really wants to go back to the pager ball and chain?), we're going to start running into lagging connections, unavailable signals, and dropped connections. This, in turn, starts to affect how we're able to work on the go. Instead of firing up your mobile administration app on the train, you might have to wait until you've stopped someplace with signal, or a five minute RDP session may end up taking double that time.