When it comes to wireless carriers, it doesn't matter how good a deal they can offer, or how good their LTE networks are, if they don't have enough spectrum to keep up with supply and demand, problems will soon arise. While not on the same scale, you could imagine spectrum as fuel for your cars, without fuel readily available, nobody would get very far. Thankfully, when it comes to spectrum, the last five years have seen quite a bit of it come up for auction or being sold between the carriers, which has helped the evolution of LTE and bring drastic improvements to T-Mobile's network. Now though, the CTIA (originally named the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, but now know simply as the Wireless Association) has come forward with a new report that says on average, it takes 13 years to reallocate spectrum for wireless use.
As The Hill is reporting, the report by the CTIA states that "the federal government has sole or primary use of between 60-70 percent of spectrum suitable for wireless broadband" which understandably makes the process quite messy. There is an auction slated for next year, to sell off spectrum no longer used for TV broadcasts, but not only has this been delayed the CTIA is saying that after the 2016 auction, the "spectrum pipeline" will be left empty. The group is estimating that 350 Mhz of spectrum will be needed up to 2020 in order to keep up with current demand and ensure networks continue to run smoothly, which means that "we must begin now to identify the 350 MHz of licensed spectrum to meet the increase in wireless traffic."
There is some evidence that spectrum is becoming more and more of a scarce resource, as the last spectrum auction netted a cool $44.9 Billion, a record figure. Not only that, but as equipment manufacturers and carriers across the globe start to talk about 5G in definite terms, US carriers will need more spectrum to accommodate the new technology. Right now, there doesn't seem to be a shortage per say, but with the 2016 auction looming as the last planned auction – and a pricey one at that – the FCC will need to get their act together to ensure more spectrum heading up to 2020 and beyond.