Marty Cooper, the inventor of the cellphone, says that we're in a crisis for spectrum. The growing demand of wireless services by both consumers and business has put a serious cramp on the spectrum that we have available today. Cooper even warns that if something isn't done to address this crunch, America is in "danger of losing its leadership position in telecommunications." In light of that, Cooper revealed a new proposal today to launch a presidential award to the company that can most improve spectral efficiency, thereby enabling us to better use the limited spectrum that we have.

Cooper's proposal for the Presidential Spectrum Prize claims that it is a low-cost solution to the growing problem. To win the award, a company must "demonstrate a hundred-times improvement in spectral efficiency and a per-bit price at least half that of existing offerings." The prize part would be nationwide license for approximately 20 MHz of bandwidth of radio-frequency spectrum given to the winner by Congress. Cooper proposes that Congress give out two of these awards to eligible contestants. He notes that while the spectrum in the award may not seem very useful for a large business today, the efficiencies that the winner develops will make it much more valuable in the future.

The winner gets a license to a block of spectrum to use as they please

Cooper says that the total cost of this project would be in the neighborhood of $20 billion for a nationwide deployment, which would be absorbed by the contestants themselves, essentially leaving no costs to taxpayers. The winners would be able to recoup that cost with the spectrum they are provided as part of the prize.

Whether or not this is the answer to the spectrum crunch that we hear carriers talk about over and over again — Cooper is convinced it is — remains to be seen, but it does seem like something needs to happen before we run out of bandwidth. Numerous studies have shown that use of wireless devices is up significantly every year, and people are using more bandwidth intensive features, such as video calling, than ever before. For now, Cooper's plan is just a proposal, it would still need to be approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies before the contest can be launched. But if it is approved, we could see a rash of new wireless technologies come from it, and frankly, that's a benefit everyone can use.