How Wireless Spectrum Works Magic

Twenty years ago, the amount of electronics needed to power your smartphone would have filled a room. Today, everything from a stereo sound system with complex speakers to the World Wide Web fits in the palm of a hand. Although more than ninety percent of Americans own a cell phone, very few understand the science behind this magic. recently released a comical video that lifts the curtain on the blend of technologies that comprise a modern mobile device. According to the video, one such requirement for any functioning mobile device is spectrum—the assigned radio wave frequencies that cellphones rely on to send and receive signals. Watching Sunday Night Football, checking Facebook, or phoning a friend all use invisible airwaves to transmit bits of data through the air. It would be an understatement to call spectrum the lifeblood of the wireless industry.

The need for commercial spectrum has and will continue to increase as consumers opt for newer, smarter technologies. Over half of all Americans own a smartphone and a third of American adults own a tablet. And, according to the FCC, smartphones use 24 times more data than traditional mobile phones, while tablets consume 122 times more data than traditional cell phones.

With the influx of consumers opting for data-hungry devices, wireless companies are now facing a widely recognized “spectrum crunch.” The Obama Administration, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission—the agency responsible for allocating spectrum for specific uses—all agree that a spectrum shortage is imminent. The “spectrum crunch” means wireless companies are unable to acquire additional spectrum to boost capacity for services. It also means that American consumers won’t be able to reap the benefits of future technologies.

Most Americans couldn’t imagine daily life without mobile services. Even older generations have trouble remembering how they once changed a dinner location last minute—or even located the restaurant—without texting and Google Maps. But, the wireless industry does much more than simply provide devices that increase convenience for Americans.

The wireless industry is responsible for indirectly and directly supporting 3.8 million jobs—or 2.6% of all U.S. employment—and contributes$195.5 billion annually to the U.S. GDP. In fact, in six short years the app economy created 519,000 jobs in the U.S. and is expected to generate$46 billion by 2016.

Provided that the requisite spectrum is available for wireless services, Americans and the U.S. economy will continue to benefit as mobile wireless carriers compete in the wireless market to generate quality products at a lower cost. The wireless market in the U.S. is fierce, with the U.S. being one of only three OECD nations with five or more mobile wireless carriers competing in the national market, but competitors can only do so much without spectrum. The government needs to deploy more commercial spectrum—and soon—to keep the magic going.