That's the best way to describe the current state of the wireless industry. Absolutely bananas.
Smartphones, tablets, LTE-enabled laptops, wirelessly connected cars... each day brings some new gadget, some new device tapping into the power of wireless networks. There are north of 300 hundred million people in the U.S., and according to Pew some 85% of them now own a cellphone. Of that group, 58% have upgraded to a smartphone. Do a little scribbling on the back of an envelope and you get something around 135 million people walking around with a wireless connection to the Internet in their pocket.
That's a lot of people pushing out a lot of data. Billions of bytes, 24 hours a day. And all that traffic, all those bits and bytes and gigs, they all require spectrum to travel from points A to B, which is why wireless providers are currently on major shopping sprees. Investing billions to acquire more airwaves. Swapping frequencies in different markets. Working with the government to free up more spectrum in order to keep up with demand.
Earlier this month, T-Mobile merged with smaller provider MetroPCS. Early last week, satellite TV provider DISH Network pitched north of $25 billion to acquire wireless provider Sprint -- a bid above what Japanese company SoftBank had also offered for the company. And those are just the two most recent moves. As mobile broadband continues to explode in popularity, there are going to be many more deals to come.
Call it a free market frenzy. A wireless lollapalooza, even. As the Federal Communications Commission continues to creep toward its proposed spectrum incentive auctions -- which will, hopefully, free up a ton more spectrum for wireless use -- providers aren't waiting around. They can't afford to. The wireless industry is one of our most vibrant sectors, and a big reason for that is competition. Even the biggest players are constantly forced to invest billions in order to meet the demands of their customers.
In such a highly competitive environment, the best thing the government can do is keep things from slowing down. That starts with ensuring the FCC auctions are open to every player willing to make the investment in -- and quickly put to use -- newly freed up airwaves. Hitting that mark will bring the government the most bang for its spectrum buck. It will also provide customers and the tech community with more robust networks. Ones that are able to keep up with innovations just around the corner.
The government can also help by encouraging wireless providers to work together in order to meet the challenge of ever increasing demand. As DISH's flirting with Sprint shows, there's no shortage of players hoping to get into the provider game. But even with the FCC's auctions, it will take providers striking deals with each other to keep connections strong and the industry growing.
By focusing on smart oversight, regulators can protect consumers and maintain a vibrant wireless industry at the same time. That way, when it comes to the future of the industry, bananas will be just the beginning.