Opinion

Opening Up the Spectrum Pipeline

With the stage almost set for a successful – and potentially record-shattering – auction of broadcast TV spectrum early next year, an important Senate hearing this week wisely drew the focus of policymakers and industry alike back to the big picture— designing a reliable spectrum pipeline that will continue to fuel the nation’s transition to the next great frontier in our wireless innovation ecosystem.

There is no question that the upcoming auction, which will free up low-band 600 MHz spectrum for wireless commercial use, is mission critical to meeting the skyrocketing demand for connectivity. But with mobile data traffic predicted to grow seven-fold in the next five years, policymakers cannot lose sight of a simple fact: we need a sustainable pipeline to free up more spectrum going forward to meet American consumers’ exponentially increasing hunger for bandwidth.

We are currently on track to live in a world with 25 billion Internet-connected devices by 2020, with traffic from wearable devices alone increasing at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 80 percent. As we begin to unlock all that the vast Internet of Things has to offer— from powering lifesaving health devices to connecting cars for safer roadways— it is imperative that we remain laser-focused on providing wireless consumers with the level of network efficiency, capacity and reliability that we have come to expect and depend on.

Meeting our smart devices’ demand-versus-capacity challenge will require equally smart policies. And this must start with the public and private sectors working together to not only free up more spectrum, but also to develop necessary sharing technologies to create more efficient and faster networks.

But it is not just our networks that must be faster and more nimble in our new mobile economy.  Our policy making process also requires a “need for speed,“ if the nation’s mobile innovation ecosystem will continue to remain globally competitive. This is especially true as the world prepares to deploy fifth-generation wireless technologies, opening up a new era of unprecedented opportunities for the use of mobile technology.

America’s mobile innovators remain ready to do their part, and to continue to lead the way. Wireless carriers in the U.S. invested a whopping $32.1 billion in networks in 2014 and investment in mobile technologies exceeded investment in pharmaceuticals and biotech combined over the past five years. The United States has consistently been a leader in next generation wireless, and we should do everything in our power to ensure we don’t cede that ground. With the global race to 5G well underway, we must maintain a pragmatic policy climate that advances wireless innovation by fostering continued growth, investment and leadership.

As network engineers and mobile technologists work toward unleashing the power and promise of 5G technology, it is equally vital that we continue to fortify today’s 4G LTE networks that are already transforming our wireless landscape. Doing so requires identifying every opportunity to maximize consumer access to spectrum, including repurposing underutilized government spectrum for wireless commercial use.

President Obama is on a roll wrapping up his broad technology agenda as he nears the end of his second term. Securing federal spectrum holdings for mobile consumers and innovators has been a top priority since his 2010 Executive Order, which set the goal of making 500 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use within ten years. And according to a recent NTIA report, the administration is on track to reach that goal.

But, with an achingly slow lag time of ten years to bring spectrum online, we must continue to look down the road to identify – and free-up –  more spectrum for the U.S. pipeline. Our nation’s global leadership – and our mobile future – depends on it.

Mobile Future Chair Jonathan Spalter, a technology executive and former senior federal government national security official, leads a coalition of technology companies/stakeholders dedicated to increasing investment and innovation in the burgeoning U.S. wireless sector.

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