Following on the heels of Apple's recent iPad announcement, two FCC officials, Phil Bellaria, Director of Scenario Planning and deputy wireless bureau chief John Leibovitz, posted a blog titled, "Message from the iPad: Heavy Traffic Ahead." Their message:
"Wireless network congestion today reveals intense demand for wireless broadband. Widespread use of smartphones, 3G-enabled netbooks, and now, perhaps, the iPad and its competitors demonstrate that wireless broadband will be a hugely important part of the broadband ecosystem as we move ahead."
Jenna Wortham, who covers the mobile sector for the NY Times, picked up that same issue recently, writing that wireless networks are "already beginning to be bogged down by smartphones that double as computers, navigation devices and e-book readers."
Also contributing, she wrote, are cellphones being used as TVs and mobile videoconferencing. An hour of mobile browsing uses about 40 megabytes of data. By comparison, watching a live sports event involves close to 300 megabytes an hour.
Meanwhile a comScore report last week claims that 17 percent of America's 234 million mobile users have smartphones, up from 11 percent last year. Unlimited data plan subscriptions rose from 16 percent to 21 percent of mobile users.
From improving healthcare to increasing information for first responders, the mobile Internet is a huge and a vital part of our economy with creative new applications and services emerging every day.
About 89 million Americans will use the mobile Internet this year and that number will nearly double to 134 million by 2013.
So what should policymakers do? Here are some suggestions:
- Encourage new investment. In today's broad wireless ecosystem, innovation is happening at every level. Wireless policies must continue to encourage innovators to take risks and make investments throughout the wireless ecosystem.
- Recognize the needs (and limitations) of government policy and wireless networks. We have a right to an open Internet. But no one benefits if the mobile web looks like the Bay Bridge at rush hour. Wireless networks are finite and federal officials need to recognize that while protecting the open web is important, what's equally important is to allow network optimization to help manage the tidal wave of data.
- Make new spectrum available to help ease congestion. This was the point of Leibovitz' FCC blog. The only way to deal with wireless bottlenecks, he wrote, is if providers have adequate spectrum.
Wireless offers countless new opportunities in today's dynamic communications market, but network congestion is a serious issue. Key policymakers have already acknowledged the looming spectrum crisis. Fortunately, there's still time to address the issue before it's too late.
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. www.mobilefuture.org.