Jan 19, 2017

The biggest threats to the wireless economy

ALA / Flickr Creative Commons

Yesterday, the first-of-its kind spectrum incentive auction attracted enough bids to succeed. This auction will free 84 MHz of broadcast TV airwaves for wireless broadband. To put that number in context, every 10 MHz of spectrum made available for wireless services adds an estimated $3 billion in GDP and 200,000 jobs.

When the auction was conceived in 2002 — five years before the iPhone — the supply of airwaves was already insufficient to keep up with growing consumer demand. Thanks to the government's work, the spectrum crunch no longer presents the same threat to our mobile economy.

The FCC must continue to unleash more airwaves for broadband and 5G networks, but it must also grapple with other emerging threats to the wireless economy. In my view, these are the biggest issues:

  1. Cybersecurity: The Internet of Things is projected to create $8 trillion in value over the next decade, but only if it's secure. The cyberattack that shut down major web sites in October was coordinated through a large number of IOT devices. The FCC should work with industry and federal partners to combat the cyber threat.
  2. Infrastructure: Wireless networks rely on a little more than 200,000 cell towers in the U.S. But the 5G wireless future may need millions of small cell sites. The current process for setting up towers is long and expensive. To ensure communities have the benefits of 5G, the FCC needs to cut red tape where it can to allow the plethora of antennas that will be needed quickly and at a reasonable cost.
  3. Competition: This remains the most effective tool for maximizing consumer benefits. On two separate occasions, the FCC has discouraged deals that would have shrunk the number of national carriers from four to three, and consumers have been the beneficiaries. Speculation about consolidation in the wireless industry has ramped up again. Skepticism of any future deals remains warranted.

These issues will have to be addressed to help fulfill the promise of mobile innovation to grow our economy and improve American's lives.

(Tom Wheeler has been chairman of the FCC since 2013. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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