August 28, 2012 9:00 AM, EDT

Trucking Technology Likely to Be Affected by Wireless Capacity Crunch, Official Warns

By Seth Clevenger, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 27 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

MINNEAPOLIS — Trucking companies that rely on wireless technology to improve their operations soon could feel the effects of a looming “capacity crunch” facing the nation’s wireless carriers, an industry leader told truckers.

“We are fast approaching a serious capacity crunch, and when that happens, the great innovation and service you’ve come to expect could be challenged,” Steve Largent, president of CTIA, a trade group representing the wireless communications industry, said Aug. 13 here.

“We simply need more spectrum, more highways to handle the traffic that we know is coming,” he said.

The former Republican U.S. congressman from Oklahoma urged attendees to contact their elected officials and ask them to open up more spectrum for the wireless industry.

“All of the flashing caution signs are out, and we know we’re in for one whale of a backup if we don’t take action today,” Largent said.

Wireless carriers need to meet the “exponentially increasing” demand for more advanced wireless services, but they have limited spectrum with which to do so, he said.

“As much as you’re using wireless today, on the job and at home, there’s no doubt you’re going to be using a lot more of it in the future,” Largent said. “Right now, the U.S. is not prepared for that.”

XRS Corp. CEO Jay Coughlan said the capacity crunch is not only a government issue but also a matter of carriers’ repurposing their existing spectrum.

“Congress can’t open up enough spectrum to solve that problem,” he said. “That’s the Band-Aid part of the solution. [The wireless carriers] have got to go to the networks already available to them and open it up, and the only way they can do that is to shut down some of the old stuff.”

XRS Corp. changed its name from Xata Corp. at its user event and announced its next-generation platform, also named XRS, which is designed to run on handheld mobile devices rather than hard-wired, onboard computers (8-20, p. 2).

Older 2G networks are using up a lot of the carriers’ bandwidth, and now, with 3G and 4G devices available, “there’s only so much room in the traffic lanes,” Coughlan said.

As a result, he said, carriers will have to shut down their older networks.

In an Aug. 3 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T Inc. said it plans to redeploy spectrum currently used for basic 2G services to support its 3G and 4G networks. The carrier said it expects to “fully discontinue” service on its 2G networks by about Jan. 1, 2017.

In May, Sprint said it would end service on its 2G iDEN network as soon as June 30, 2013, and is moving the customers using that service to a 3G network.