The Internet of Things is one of the hottest buzzwords today. The social and economic promise of bringing billions of connected devices online in the coming years is staggering. From health monitors to t-shirts, “smart” tech will collect and use information that’ll impact the way each of us lives and works.
The less-buzzed-about but critically important part of the IoT is the industrial IoT. This is the future connected world that will transform transportation, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and several other industries. According to PwC, “the advent of the IIoT is a once-in-a-lifetime business disruption.” It will strengthen our economy, create jobs and make us safer.
But for all the exciting advances that the Industrial IoT will support, none of this will be possible without the requisite digital infrastructure. The question policymakers must now address is how to catalyze the massive investment we need today to lay the groundwork for the digital networks of tomorrow. And considering use of digital networks only continues to grow rapidly (reports estimate mobile data traffic in North America alone will increase 42 percent by 2020) we should, in part, be eyeing a new approach to spectrum that will open up more of these radio airwaves that fuel all mobile connections.
Case in point: Federal agencies hold about 60 percent of the spectrum that is best suited for mobile services. However, those holdings remain closed for shared commercial use. This “proprietary” model no longer works with today’s digital needs. Federal agencies must be willing to identify and collaborate on better utilization of this essentially fallow resource. How can this be done? By opening up Uncle Sam’s spectrum for commercial use via public-private partnerships.
One promising solution is to rethink use of currently unlicensed spectrum. If done strategically, allocating this spectrum can provide a more seamless and secure mobile experience for consumers, relieving congestion on high capacity networks needed for the Industrial IoT.
Technology like LTE-U – which was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in February – combines the best aspects of LTE (provider’s licensed network) with the best aspects of unlicensed spectrum (communal spectrum that’s an established breeding ground for mobile innovations like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and baby monitors). With proven co-existence, some providers are already building devices that can use this technology to enhance connectivity for their customers.
Yet another approach is to combine satellite and ground-based wireless services together. This hybrid type of offering, which the FCC is currently contemplating for approval, would jumpstart next-generation connectivity for mission-critical industries by pooling existing resources and deploying them in ways that are far more advanced and forward-thinking than what currently exists. Rather than just focusing on consumer connectivity, these types of licensed services could power truly revolutionary technologies, bringing innovation to traditional industries, which would redound to average consumers. And this is more than theoretical: There are companies ready to begin deployment if and when the FCC approves their applications.
We’re in a golden age of communications. Never before have so many people been able to connect to others in such powerful and beneficial ways. The mobile Internet has been an integral partner in this amazing development. If policymakers can push on the gas instead of the brakes, mobile technology will only get better, bringing more innovation, choice and promise to all Americans.
Mike Wendy is president of Media Freedom, a market-oriented, nonprofit organization.
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