CTIA defends report on mobile data traffic, spectrum crunch warnings

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The CTIA defended its recent report on U.S. mobile data traffic growth and its stance that there is a looming spectrum crunch amid criticism that the trade group is providing a misleading picture of data demand to further its interests.

In a blog post, Dr. Robert Roche, the head of CTIA's Research Department, wrote that it is "offensive" to suggest that the CTIA is hiding any data. "CTIA's interest is in fact-based analysis, not speculative and hyperbolic insinuations," he wrote. "The fact of the matter is that American's data usage did increase, whether you look at twelve-month or six-month increments."

The trade group may have been put on the defensive by a blog post in GigaOM by TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar, who took issue with a recent CTIA report that said U.S. mobile data traffic grew 104 percent over the last year. "However, underlying the statistics are numbers that tell a far different story: in fact, there was a dramatic slowdown in wireless traffic growth during the first half of 2012," Farrar wrote. "Of course, CTIA doesn't want anyone to realize that, because it is significantly at variance with CTIA's narrative of an impending 'spectrum crunch' into which so much lobbying effort has been invested."

The recent CTIA report, which covered the period of July 2011 to June 2012, is not directly comparable to the report the CTIA released in October 2011, which covered only the six months from January 2011 to June 2011. Farrar wrote that if one looks at past CTIA releases, the first six months of 2012 saw around 633 billion MB of data traffic compared with 526 million MB in the last six months of 2011, only a 21 percent increase, "a dramatic slowdown from the 54 percent growth in total traffic seen between the first and second half of 2011." CTIA measured 341 million MB in the first six months of 2011, according to slides in tis full report. In April 2012, CTIA reported 12-month statistics.

Farrar wrote that "it's not an extravagant leap of logic to connect" the slowdown in the rate of data traffic growth "with the widely announced adoption of data caps by the major wireless providers in the spring of 2012. It's understandable that consumers would become skittish about data consumption and seek out free Wi-Fi alternatives whenever possible. And there's anecdotal evidence that supports the hypothesis." He wrote that many carriers and the CTIA have an interest in playing up the idea of spectrum crunch in order to obtain more spectrum from the government.

In his fiery response back, CTIA's Roche wrote that "if you look at the year-to-year growth from June 2010's six-month volume (161 billion MB) to June 2011 (341 billion MB) to June 2012 (633 billion MB), you see a usage curve that is shooting up dramatically. In fact, this pace would bear out Cisco's projections."

Roche also wrote that "dismissing 'a so-called spectrum crunch' ignores not just a consensus in the U.S., it neglects the global nature of the analysis that calls for more commercial spectrum allocation around the world, to accommodate growing numbers of users and increasingly complex uses."

The debate comes as the FCC begins preparing rules for incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum, due in 2014, something CTIA has fought vigorously for the past several years. The auctions are intended to free up 120 MHz of spectrum. Additionally, the FCC is exploring whether and how to update its rules on how much spectrum a carrier can hold.

For more:
- see this CTIA blog post
- see this CTIA report (PDF)
- see this GigaOM article
- see this Multichannel News article

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