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Much of Western U.S. is a 3G wasteland, says FCC

Mountainous regions lack 3G or 4G data coverage

By Brad Reed, Network World
February 10, 2012 03:58 PM ET

Network World - Anyone making a road trip across America should expect their mobile data service to basically not exist throughout much of the Western United States.

The Federal Communications Commission today released a map showing which counties across the U.S. lacked coverage from either 3G or 4G networks and found that wide swaths of the western half of the country were 3G wastelands, particularly in mountainous states such as Idaho and Nevada. This isn't particularly surprising since it's much more difficult for carriers to afford building out mobile data networks in sparsely populated mountainous regions, but it does underscore how large stretches of the United States lack access to mobile data services that people in the Northeast, South and Midwest now take for granted.

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And it isn't just interior western states that lack significant 3G coverage. The areas surrounding major Northwestern metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Portland contain large patches of 3G dead zones as well. For example, the eastern portion of King County, which encompasses Seattle, has more than 2,800 road miles that are currently uncovered by a 3G or 4G network.

Other major regions lacking access to 3G or 4G networks in the United States include the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, as well as the northernmost regions of Maine and the Adirondack Mountain regions in upstate New York.

The FCC is hoping to soon eliminate some of these 3G dead zones in with its planned "Mobility Fund" auction that's scheduled for September. The FCC says the auction will be designed to "award one-time support to carriers that commit to provide 3G or better mobile voice and broadband services in areas where such services are unavailable." The FCC says that it will select winners "based on the bids that will maximize the road miles covered by new mobile services without exceeding the budget of $300 million."

In addition to its upcoming auction to provide financial help to carriers for building out 3G services in underserved areas, the FCC is also working to free up more mobile spectrum to serve carriers' needs in building out their 4G LTE networks. The FCC has set a goal to make 300MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use over the next five years with the eventual goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum by the end of 2020. The FCC has said it could reach 300MHz by reallocating 120MHz of spectrum currently used by television broadcasters, with 90MHz coming from mobile satellite providers, 10MHz coming from the 700MHz "D" block, 60MHz coming from the AWS band and 20MHz coming from the Wireless Communications Service band.

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

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