Can the FCC stop the coming spectrum crunch?

For all the talk of a pending spectrum crunch that is worrying regulators and wireless companies, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot about it.

Genachowski reasserted his stance that the government needs to open up the “white space” of the wireless spectrum between television stations for auction to wireless companies in order to alleviate an upcoming spectrum crunch — which refers to a large number of companies crowding the limited amount of wireless space. But he didn’t initiate any new policies or make any significant announcements when he presented a keynote at the CTIA Wireless 2011 conference today in Orlando, Fla.

“We want to continue to focus on an incentive-based, market-driven path to tackle the spectrum crunch — a voluntary auction for the wireless spectrum,” Genachowski said.

It’s the same stance Genachowski took when he presented the nation’s broadband plan — which included ways to alleviate the upcoming wireless spectrum crunch — at the CTIA Wireless 2009 conference. The FCC originally developed those plans because smartphones, and now tablets, use much more of the wireless spectrum when transmitting and receiving data, Genachowski said. Smartphones use 24 times the amount of spectrum that cell phones use, and tablets use 120 times the spectrum that cell phones use.

“We simply can’t afford to delay on voluntary incentive auctions,” he said. “The incentive auction is an idea whose time has come.”

Despite his talk of pushing the government hard on creating those auctions and firmer regulations that would open up additional wireless spectrum for companies, Genachowski didn’t say when or if the auctions would actually occur. And aside from those auctions, he didn’t present any other strong plans to alleviate the upcoming spectrum crunch that wireless carriers might face. The FCC is charged with regulating the wireless spectrum and all international communications that originate or terminate in the United States.

One new idea Genachowski suggested was using a network of femtocells — basically miniature cellular towers that tie into broadband networks to transmit a wireless signal — to help alleviate some of the strain on networks. But he didn’t lay out any kind of plan to create a network that some companies like Fon, a wireless hotspot provider, use internationally to create a pervasive wireless network.

Genachowski didn’t comment on AT&T’s recent $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile. The telecom giant purchased T-Mobile to gain access to wireless spectrum without having to participate in an auction, AT&T Mobility president Ralph de la Vega said.

If the government finds ways to free up additional spectrum for auction, it could create an additional 205,000 jobs related to developing and deploying a new 4th-generation wireless network powered by WiMax or LTE — which are much faster wireless networks, he said. That would also promote innovation in other parts of the wireless world, such as allowing cell phone users to text 911 (rather than calling in) and transmit pictures of crime scenes and burning buildings, he said.

Thanks to Sprint, which is sponsoring VentureBeat’s coverage from this week’s CTIA conference. Learn more about Sprint, the Now Network, here. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity. Sprint had no involvement in the content of this post.

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