In the nation's capital we are beginning to see movement on a critical issue for U.S. wireless consumers with a voracious appetite for innovative mobile services, products and devices -- initial steps to address the coming mobile capacity crunch.
As the mercury rises in the nation's capital, it's not just leaders from Capitol Hill to the White House to the Federal Communications Commission who are calling for timely action on the spectrum exhaustion our nation faces. A broad array of influential voices are now stepping forward to make clear the high and shared stake -- for our economy, consumers and American innovation -- of ensuring the wireless web can continue to keep pace with fast-expanding consumer demand.
Here are four key highlights for those keeping score at home:
Network engineers sound the alarm. According to a study by Rysavy Research commissioned by Mobile Future, "capacity will not be able, absent additional spectrum, to meet the data demands of consumers in three to four years if consumers use the applications they desire." The clock is ticking and much bolder moves are needed now by the government to help free up more spectrum for connected consumers. In my view, the AT&T-T-Mobile merger is an important step in easing the spectrum crunch through market-based mechanisms. That said, it's a dangerous myth to assume one business merger -- even one of this magnitude -- can "solve" the spectrum shortage.
Top U.S. tech companies back robust wireless networks. Three years ago, we'd never heard the word "app." Today, wireless consumers can choose from nearly 1 million of them--sold by 26 competing online stores. By 2015, the "apps economy" is forecast to climb to $38 billion. That's real jobs and economic opportunities flowing primarily to the U.S. No surprise then that leading U.S. tech companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo, recently weighed in with the FCC that "an increasingly robust and efficient wireless network is part of a virtuous innovation cycle and a healthy wireless ecosystem is an important part of our global competitiveness."
Key technology investors urge timely fix. From helping grow the economy to keeping up with consumers and innovators, we must have reliable and fast mobile connectivity. That's why prominent venture capital firms also took the rare step of weighing in with the FCC, both in support of the merger and the broader spectrum effort. "The greatest opportunity for economic growth involves wireless broadband and mobile devices," they wrote. "But this great growth opportunity faces a major impediment with the looming prospect of 'spectrum exhaust.'"
Key groups link to digital divide. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for 98 percent of Americans to have access to the mobile Internet within five years. That would be a significant milestone for our economy and for closing the digital divide. Mobile broadband opens doors for all Americans -- from helping a blind person walk down the street with voice-activated directions to assisting people living with chronic illnesses in managing their health. Too often overlooked in the debates, African Americans and Hispanics lead the nation in cell phone ownership and wireless Internet use, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. So important is the mobile Internet that 14 national Latino groups co-signed a letter stating that "this merger could provide opportunities to achieve many of these objectives by bringing the possibility of faster, smarter wireless networks to more Hispanics, further shrinking the digital divide."
Spectrum is a complex debate. Even more true, it's an essential one to get right today. Congress is starting to move on spectrum legislation, but the clock is ticking. Today, we see a rising tide of voices -- innovators, entrepreneurs, capital investors and community representatives -- joining the call for spectrum now. The question that remains is will Washington answer -- and do so in time to keep the mobile future bright, healthy and growing for us all.
Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served as an advisor to and spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.
Mobile Future is a 501(c)(4) coalition comprised of and supported by technology businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. For a full list of members and sponsors and to learn more about the coalition, go to www.mobilefuture.org.