As smart cities proliferate across the globe and wireless technologies become ever more ubiquitous, a ‘spectrum crunch’ is becoming a possibility in countries as the point of ‘peak data’ is being fast approached, where user demand for wireless internet, telephony, and other services can no longer be fully accommodated by the available radiofrequency spectrum.
This is the finding of a recent study from Australia’s national research organization CSIRO, which foresees several imminent challenges for that country’s – and other countries’ – wireless communications landscape. Among these is a new “digital divide” in internet connectivity, which could significantly diminish access by rural and remote communities.
Higher data rates
“The data rates that people now expect from their mobile services are about a hundred times the amount we thought possible only two decades ago,” comments Dr Ian Oppermann, director of CSIRO's Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, on the “breakneck pace” with which wireless technology has been adopted in Australia and other countries around the world.
However, today's technologies and infrastructure will be hard pressed to support further increases in demand, both in terms of speed and volume, for wireless data and services over the coming decades
“Some estimates suggest that spectrum demand will have almost tripled by 2020,” Oppermann continues, saying that the existing infrastructure will need to rapidly expand its currently available capacity if it is to meet this demand.
The CSIRO study foresees a world in which wireless technology underpins not just how people communicate with one another, but also a far greater variety of interactions between people, devices, and the environment than currently exist today:
- Replacement of digital TV and telephony services by internet-based, personalized streaming services and the spectrum bands currently allocated to these services repurposed for wireless internet
- Omnipresent sensing technologies in homes, offices, and the built environment that optimize and improve almost every aspect of our daily lives
- The widespread use of wireless positioning technologies, from making driverless cars the norm to enhancing retail experiences through ‘virtual concierges’
- ‘Tele-service’ as the default model of service delivery for governments and businesses, with education, healthcare, and other ‘public goods’ being delivered via private digital networks
- Radical improvements on the way existing wireless infrastructure accommodates ongoing growth in service demand, including smaller cells, smarter antennae, and beyond.
Smart Cities booming
The number of smart cities is growing rapidly as ICTs are integrated across more functional areas of a city, such as mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance, and safety and security. By 2025 the number is expected to quadruple to at least 88, with estimated investments at US$12 billion (in this context a smart city is defined as ICT integration across three or more functional areas). [Engerati-Smart Cities Set to Boom]
In addition to individual city activities, regional ICT integration initiatives are also under way. In Europe a Directive was introduced recently to advance the digital economy by lowering the network deployment costs. Notably one of the aims is to enhance cooperation between telecommunications and utility providers, but reaction to its potential impact in this area has been mixed. [Engerati-European Directive on High-Speed Electronic Communications to Lower Costs and Improve Service Delivery] However, focussed on costs, spectrum issues are not covered in this Directive.