More Tech, More Demand: Is Wireless Policy Keeping Up?

More Tech, More Demand: Is Wireless Policy Keeping Up?

Some of us are early adopters of new technology and some of us are a few steps behind, but we are all living in a world where wireless communication is becoming more ingrained in our daily lives. TECHPol has discussed the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) (See Blog: The Internet of Things Explosion:  Will Policymakers Dampen or Fuel It?) and how device-to-device communications are becoming more prevalent both in business and personal life. The promise of this new technology seems limitless, but its lifeline (wireless spectrum) is not. Spectrum is a finite resource; so what is being done to make sure we can stay on the path of rapid technological innovation that is so important to our economy?

The Growth Trend:

Mobile data use is growing as more people use mobile devices to access information and communicate in new ways.  Think about how smart phones and tablets have changed the way we interact and entertain ourselves — streaming video, FaceTime, Skype, social media videos shared and viewed. Then there’s the IoT where sensors and machines are communicating to make our cities, homes, and industries smarter and more efficient.  The experts predict:

  • A whopping 70% of the world’s population will be mobile users in 2020 — that’s 5.5 billion users compared to 4.8 billion in 2015 (Cisco).
  • Data traffic will be eight times greater in 2020, with video comprising 75% of mobile data traffic, up from 55% last year  (Cisco).
  • Mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual rate of 42% per user between 2014-2019 (GSMA).
  • Looking at the IoT, this year about 6.4 billion things will be connected to the Internet, with 5.5 million new things becoming connected each day!  This is 30 percent more than in 2015.  By 2020, that figure is expected to reach 20.8 billion. (Gartner).
  • The potential global economic impact of the IoT could reach $11.1 trillion a year by 2025 (McKinsey).

Wireless Policy:

More capacity requires more wireless spectrum, but that’s something that can’t be manufactured. The key is to allocate and use what exists in the most efficient way.  To avoid a “wireless crunch,” industry and policymakers are looking for ways to accommodate the exploding demand.

On February 11th, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, John Thune (R-SD), introduced a long-negotiated, bipartisan bill named the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless — or the MOBILE NOW Act.  A few of the bill’s key provisions seek to:

  1. Make Spectrum Available: The bill turns what is now just a government goal into a requirement; that is making 500 MHz of federal spectrum available for private-sector use by 2020.  The bill also requires the Commerce Department to report to Congress recommendations on legislative or regulatory proposals that would encourage federal agencies to relinquish or share their spectrum with non-federal users.
  2. Facilitate 5G:  The telecommunications industry is forging ahead to develop the next generation (5G) of wireless networks to meet the demands of new technology by optimizing spectrum, among other things.  The bill pushes the FCC to complete rules this year that will allow the deployment of the small cells that will be key to 5G.  Federal agencies would also speed up decisionmaking on requests for permits to place wireless infrastructure on government property.
  3. Assess Spectrum Uses:  The Federal government would determine the feasibility of authorizing the use of spectrum in the 3GHz band and millimeter wave frequencies that will be critical for future 5G wireless networks.
  4. Reduce Costs of Broadband Deployment:  The bill encourages the “dig once” policy so broadband conduits can be laid underground at the same time that federally funded construction projects are being done.

Since the MOBILE NOW Act was negotiated with input of stakeholders and introduced with the support of both the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate committee of jurisdiction, its path to enactment has been cleared of some obstacles.  Chairman Thune is hopeful about combining efforts with the House which is working on similar legislation to get a bill to the President’s desk.