The global epicenter for discussions about wireless innovation, entrepreneurship and investment is not in Washington, D.C. this week where Japan's Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son (and newly minted owner of wireless carrier Sprint) will share his thoughts on the American mobile marketplace, but rather deep in the heart of Texas. Mobile enthusiasts from all over the world have flocked to Austin to engage in a digital rite of passage - rubbing elbows at the famed South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. What began more than 25 years ago as a music festival that drew 700 attendees, SXSW has morphed into an interactive marketplace of ideas for more than 72,000 pacesetters intent on exploring a hotbed of ideas and opportunities in our emerging mobile ecosystem. The magnetism of SXSW is particularly strong given the United States' global wireless leadership.
With wireless evolution moving at lightning speed - mobile data traffic grew more than 80 percent last year - the U.S. wireless ecosystem is thriving because it fosters competition, innovation and entrepreneurial ingenuity. And with 91 percent of the U.S. population enjoying a competitive choice of at least three wireless broadband providers, mobile broadband has become a real competitive alternative to wireline broadband. This mobile ecosystem is rewarding American consumers - from record infrastructure investment, to the 22 U.S. providers offering 4G LTE service, to the variety of service plans, devices and providers. Consider what U.S. wireless subscribers experience compared to our global counterparts:
- U.S. consumers pay less - and use mobile far more extensively - than their foreign counterparts. On average, Americans use five times more voice minutes and two times more data than European consumers. Meanwhile, U.S. mobile data prices have plummeted 93 percent since 2008 to only 3 cents per megabyte.
- According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. has the highest number of wireless broadband subscriptions at 299 million, well more than double that of any other country. Second place, Japan has just 134.3 million subscriptions.
- U.S. broadband speeds are among the fastest in the world. In 2012, the average mobile data connection speed for North America was 2.6 Mbps, the fastest in the world, nearly twice that available in Western Europe, and more than five times the global average.
- The U.S. is home to more than half of all 4G LTE subscribers in the world, easily outpacing all other countries. Japan was second with 21 percent and South Korea was third with 18 percent.
- In 2013, the top four U.S. carriers easily outspent all 58 European wireless carriers combined.
The United States' highly competitive wireless sector has become a strategic national asset, setting the bar for how countries can enable the next wave of mobile innovation. While the mobile future is filled with promise, however, there are real capacity issues on the horizon. If upcoming U.S. spectrum auctions are designed to encourage the broadest possible participation, additional spectrum put into service for millions of American wireless users will not only help ensure consumers remain in the driver's seat, but will also fortify our global mobile leadership.
Our nation's wireless success story is due in no small measure to a regulatory approach that relies substantially on restraint, simplicity and economy. New technology, service and business combinations can produce formidable new rivals that can emerge, seemingly, in the blink of an eye. In this environment, it is pure folly for anyone--and especially for government--to try and predict, much less shape, future market architecture.
U.S. mobile consumers benefit every day from faster networks and multi-billion dollar investments that lead to significant opportunities in every sector of our economy. American wireless users are responding with a voracious appetite for wireless connectivity, which is great news for mobile entrepreneurs.
That's why policymakers would do well to focus not just on what is being said in Washington, but on mobile innovators in places like Austin at SXSW, who are looking ahead to the future and helping to lead this dynamic mobile evolution.
Mobile Future Chair Jonathan Spalter, a technology executive and former senior federal government national security official, leads a coalition of technology companies/stakeholders dedicated to increasing investment and innovation in the burgeoning U.S. wireless sector.