The demand for spectrum will exceed supply by 2013, according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates. Cisco has consistently pointed to exploding mobile demand.

In fact, Cisco now believes traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2016. Wi-Fi and mobile devices will account for 61 percent of IP traffic by that point, Cisco believes. So carriers need more spectrum, right?

But not everybody agrees with that assessment. Martin Cooper, chairman of Dyna, says that the spectrum crisis isn’t as serious as some say. “Somehow in the last 100 years, every time there is a problem of getting more spectrum, there is a technology that comes along that solves that problem,” he argues.

And a third group of observers might agree that more spectrum is needed, but can be found without a new round of spectrum auctions. That is behind some of the thinking about spectrum sharing, for example.

To be sure, there typically is progress in coding algorithms over time. Cable, satellite and telco TV ooperators, for example, would not be able to deliver high-definition TV so easily without such major advances. Long Term Evolution, the fourth generation mobile network air interface is much more efficient than the third generation protocols it will replace.

Others might argue that it is the regulatory framework which causes the “artificial scarcity,” and that a wholesale approach to access is the answer. Some would say that the political constellation of forces suggests that will not be a viable policy alternative in the U.S. market.

In part, that is because, unlike in some other markets, service providers continue to believe that ownership of access networks provides strategic advantage. That is not seen as such a compelling argument in some markets, but makes a major U.S. regulatory shift unlikely.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO, believes additional spectrum is required, as do many who watch and think about mobile services. Precisely how networks could meet user demand for mobile video is the driving issue.

Precisely how video bandwidth demand can be monetized also is an issue, but many would argue that even if the number of subscribers stopped growing, the fact that video imposes an order of magnitude or more demand on any network would eventually cripple any existing network.

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