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Cell Phone Mania Forces Scramble For More Airwaves

JOELLE TESSLER

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Wireless devices such as Apple's iPhone are transforming the way we go online, making it possible to look up driving directions, find the nearest coffee shop and update Facebook on the go. All this has a price ¿ in airwaves.

As mobile phones become more sophisticated, they transmit and receive more data over the airwaves. But the spectrum of wireless frequencies is finite ¿ and devices like the iPhone are allowed to use only so much of it. TV and radio broadcasts, Wi-Fi networks and other communications services also use the airwaves. Each transmits on certain frequencies to avoid interference with others.

Now wireless phone companies fear they're in danger of running out of room, leaving congested networks that frustrate users and slow innovation. So the wireless companies want the government to give them bigger slices of airwaves ¿ even if other users have to give up rights to theirs.

"Spectrum is the equivalent of our highways," says Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group. "That's how we move our traffic. And the volume of that traffic is increasing so dramatically that we need more lanes. We need more highways."

That won't happen without a fight. Wireless companies are eyeing some frequencies used by TV broadcasters, satellite-communications companies and federal agencies such as the Pentagon. Already, some of those groups are pushing back.

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