Everyone likes the beach, but unless you live right on it, you have to get there somehow, and that generally means driving—using the essential infrastructure that America built over decades to connect our country. Likewise, we all like and often need to use our smartphones to access information, social media, and other types of applications—but this, too, relies on an infrastructure that is often invisible but no less important. Without it, wireless technology would simply not work.The wireless infrastructure association—PCIA—gathered in Orlando earlier this week. Their meeting offered a good opportunity to take a hard look at the industry’s infrastructure, the businesses supporting it, where it is going, and what we need to do to ensure that wireless technology continues to improve and become more reliable.
We have become used to having all that wireless devices can offer in the palm of our hand. But just as most Americans don’t think about the structural integrity of the bridges and highways we travel, many don’t think about the infrastructure necessary to support mobile broadband and the wireless devices it enables. As Jonathan Adelstein, the newly named President and CEO of PCIA, notes, “once you are used to broadband, there is no going back.” But even as we expect better service, faster delivery, and continuing innovation, the underlying infrastructure that makes wireless work has to be expanded and upgraded to support our needs.
Demand for wireless data—voice, video, games, apps, etc.—is growing exponentially. Data traffic grew by 300 percent last year and is expected to rise 16-fold in the next four years, driven by the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets. That high demand can be met only by a modern wireless network that can handle ever higher levels of data traffic and provide the reliable service that consumers demand. The increasing demand for wireless technology creates capacity constraints on the wireless networks. And that’s an issue for everyone. As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted at the conference, wireless dead zones are both quality of life and public safety issues. It’s critically important to address this problem now.
Not only do we need to make more spectrum available for wireless innovators and providers, but we need to continue encouraging broadband providers to upgrade and deploy additional physical infrastructure to support wireless. Wireless infrastructure includes towers and new technologies such as small “femtocells” and distributed antenna networks that make more efficient use of the spectrum we already have. As was discussed in Orlando, spectrum auctions are also an important way to get spectrum into the hands of users quickly.
The wireless industry is currently upgrading to a technology called “4G LTE,” or fourth-generation. For mobile users, these networks also have the potential to expand mobile phone capability, offering faster connections, new mobile services and applications, and improved coverage.
These improvements, however, can only occur if networks are built, maintained and upgraded. Today the wireless industry is an investment juggernaut, deploying an estimated $27 billion in capital improvements in only the last year. That investment sustains hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide. It means jobs for those who deploy and upgrade these new systems and who are hired to build network infrastructure across the country. It also means jobs for network operators and those who sell smartphones and associated technology. The tasks involved in these jobs include everything from digging foundations and building the towers to designing the fiber network that will sustain the wireless needs of the future. This “job count” does not include the many ancillary jobs that wireless indirectly supports.
Fortunately, building high-speed networks is a top priority for both the private and public sector. If we do not repurpose additional spectrum or if we fail to build towers and other infrastructure investment will suffer, and the wireless ecosystem will be affected – including the quality of your wireless experience. Thus, policymakers should encourage investment and provide a regulatory environment that favors the digital revolution.
As I recently said in a statement that you can check out here, solving the wireless spectrum crunch is the great infrastructure challenge of our day. Investment in technology and the infrastructure that supports it can lead not only to jobs and to economic development across the nation but can also provide unforeseen technology and services that benefit consumers.