Is an Economically Solid Mobile Future in the Pipeline?

Published June 13, 2015

Earlier this year Cisco released its annual¬†Visual Network Index (VNI) Forecast Report: Mobile Data Traffic Update, 2014-2019. The report makes clear that North America, mostly the United States, has been a global leader in mobile broadband development. ¬†Case in pont, North America had 39.1 percent of all global 4G connections in 2014 with projections showing that by 2019 North America’s share will increase to 42.1 percent.

A more granular view of what is driving those connections is stunning:

  • 40.7 million smart phones were added to the mobile network in 2014.
  • Eighty-six percent of the U.S. population, 290.1 million, will be mobile users by 2019, up from 268.5 million in 2014.

Mobile data traffic in 2014 was 32 times greater than the volume a mere five years earlier, and with the growth projected in the next couple years, traffic will dramatically increase again. The new users will be coming online to join in taking advantage of the great benefits of mobile broadband. As the Report indicates:

  • Mobile data traffic will grow 7-fold from 2014 to 2019, a compound annual growth rate of 47%.
  • Mobile traffic per user will reach 11,510 megabytes per month by 2019, up from 1,960 megabytes per month in 2014, a compound annual growth rate of 41%.

The economic benefits are just as dazzling. The Brattle Group has recently released a study “Licensed Spectrum: A Vital Resource for the American Economy,” detailing the economic analysis of the value of licensed spectrum.

The study illuminates several key points:

  • Because of licensed spectrum, the U.S. is currently the global leader in mobile services.
  • Licensed spectrum for commercial wireless networks results in over $400 billion in economic activity every year, including $173 billion in direct spending and another $228 billion in indirect impacts.
  • Licensed spectrum is a job multiplier. For every person employed in the wireless industry, another 6.5 people are employed. The result is 1.3 million jobs supported by the wireless industry.
  • Consumer welfare attributable to the licensed spectrum is measured in the trillions of dollars.

This exciting mobile future faces a significant challenge as it depends on a current and continued pipeline of available spectrum. The federal government, the FCC and the administration, have promised a timely incentive spectrum auction, and the release of 500 MHz of additional spectrum by 2020. These are critical in keeping the pipeline running.

Also critical is a broad comprehensive plan that details how the federal government will plan to accommodate consumer demand beyond 2020. If the past is predictive then predictions will miss actual future use of mobile technology by an order of magnitude. The federal government is already behind on planning for what happens a mere five years away. That is not acceptable.

Broadband, including mobile broadband is too important to too much of economy to not be a priority issue in Washington. The time for it being a priority to talk about has passed, the time to prioritize action is now. If this pipeline doesn’t stay full we can say goodbye to mobile broadband.