Red, White, Blue and Smart: Wireless Gets into the Competitive Spirit

As all eyes descend on Rio, much attention will be paid to Michael Phelps’ return to the pool, gymnast Simone Biles’ quest for all-around Olympic gold and Carmelo Anthony’s pursuit, up and down the courts, of a third trip to the top of the medal stand. Our wireless devices also will get a workout. Mobile data traffic in Rio is expected to be 50 percent greater than the record-shattering sea of selfies, mobile videos and more that deluged the London games four short years ago.

Thanks to strong, competitive rivalries among U.S. mobile providers, Americans now have more wireless choices than Phelps has gold medals. A new infographic released by Mobile Future highlights the diversity of choices that empower every American to “choose their own adventure” amid today’s rich tapestry of competitive wireless offerings.

Yes, 92 percent of the country has three or more choices for 4G LTE data service. But that is just the beginning of the journey: Just as Olympics fans chart their own course through 17 days of athletics according to their interests, whether it’s swimming and gymnastics or table tennis and judo, U.S. wireless consumers also are empowered with self-determination. We can choose from among 3,500 mobile devices. We can share a plan with friends and family—or across our own family of wireless gadgets—selecting the price point, volume and perks that work best for us. And, new deals are always coming online: When one company offers no-contract options or data bonus plans–others follow. This perpetual jockeying for position is compelling proof of a consumer-responsive market.

Competition defines the U.S. mobile marketplace. It’s the reason American consumers are the most empowered in the world in terms of the choices before them. But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Other countries, too, want to climb to the top of the podium. Our global rivals are intensely engaged in the race to advanced 4G and ultimately 5G networks. South Korea and Japan plan to launch 5G trial networks when they host the Olympics in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The European Union has initiated the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership. China, too, claims they will begin testing this year and launch in 2020, when international standards are expected to debut. The United States is on roughly the same schedule, with all four national carriers slated to begin 5G testing this year.

Part of the formula for sustained U.S. mobile advancement in the next administration is forward-looking innovation policies like those in place early in President Obama’s administration that helped achieve—and exceed—his goal of connecting 98 percent of the country to mobile Internet. And, it will be a central determinant of our nation’s medal count in the 5G global rivalry.

A key early test will be how broadly the Federal Communications Commission implements its net neutrality order. Privacy is another potentially large and looming battle with vast implications. Will consumers continue to correctly assume all online companies—AT&T and Comcast, yes, but also Google, Facebook and other savvy collectors and users of their personal information—are subject to the same online privacy rules? Or will the FCC proceed with internet provider-only rules, fostering consumer confusion and tilting the competitive playing field in ways only a Russian judge could love?

Wireless companies invested roughly $146 billion in U.S. networks over the past five years, delivering wireless speeds faster than Usain Bolt and coverage more powerful than any spiked volleyball on the Copacabana Beach. Continued investment will depend heavily on whether the referees in Washington call a fair game.

As any Olympic athlete will tell you, competition breeds excellence. In today’s mobile arena, U.S. consumers are the real winners. Now if only we could fit them all on a Wheaties box.

Morning Consult