Beyond 2016: Americans and Our Apps Need More Spectrum | Commentary

Posted October 5, 2015 at 3:58pm

Do you need to stay connected for work? To share pics and videos, watch streaming video or listen to your personalized music stream? To shop, manage transportation or even monitor your personal health?

There are apps for all of these needs — and for many more.

Mobile apps have changed our world so dramatically that it’s hard to imagine these capabilities and services did not exist eight years ago. In less than a decade, we’ve gone from a 3G world just being introduced and smartphone technology being brand new, to one driven by innovators introducing apps and remote services that support virtually all aspects of our lives. Today, millions of apps span light-hearted entertainment and gaming to essential health maintenance and wellness tracking.

Beyond the end user experience, apps are a game changer because of the economic impact and opportunity they provide. In 2013 the Progressive Policy Institute reported there were more than 750,000 app economy jobs in this country alone — a number that has unquestionably risen. Also consider that the app economy is driven by entrepreneurs and start-ups, creating new jobs and opportunities for economic advancement faster than ever before, no matter who you are, where you are from or what school you attended.

It is important to appreciate that none of this would be possible without the lifeblood of the mobile industry that app developers rely on, known as spectrum. Spectrum is the collection of radio frequencies that mobile services and apps depend on. Your mobile service relies on “licensed spectrum” that has been purchased by mobile service providers and is dedicated for broadband data and communications use for their networks. “Unlicensed spectrum” is also critical to apps and mobile services, as it supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and services that connect over shorter distances or help us connect to the licensed networks.

Demand for spectrum is rising dramatically as more consumers use more apps that use more broadband data. According to CTIA -The Wireless Association, mobile data usage will jump to six times the current rate by 2020. The U. S leads the world in deployment of 4G mobile broadband, and more spectrum will be auctioned in 2016. But it is already obvious that America will continue to be broadband-constrained into the next decade and that 4G will not keep pace with Americans’ demands. Imagine consumers’ frustration if all of America returns to AOL dial-up speed. Slow and clunky broadband will be a disincentive to the development of new apps and will diminish the pace of innovation.

Wireless carriers are already planning for 5G mobile broadband, but its benefits will not be enjoyed for several years and studies illustrate that new spectrum does not fully benefit consumers until seven years after an auction. As we enter the next generation of connected business and connected life — including augmented and virtual reality services, ultra high-definition video, connected cars and the Internet of Things — it is critical that policymakers look beyond the 2016 spectrum auction and begin planning for the next auction of licensed spectrum and the next tranche of unlicensed spectrum. Every spectrum auction requires several years of research and planning, and auctions are often delayed by seemingly endless debates and litigation. So it is important that we focus beyond the 2016 auction, and even beyond the next auction (which isn’t even scheduled yet).

Two great opportunities to initiate a long-term strategy are this week’s hearings of the Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce Committees. Both hearings will examine barriers to wireless broadband deployment, federal government spectrum holdings and how to make more spectrum available for commercial use. The Committees should set the stage for legislation to require the FCC and NTIA to develop a long-term spectrum plan that ensures a steady stream of this much-needed resource for many years — and this plan should include strong consideration of whether the federal government should be relinquishing some of its spectrum so our broadband networks can support the next several generations of apps and mobile services.

It is crucial as we move toward a world of connected homes, connected cars, Internet of Things and 5G mobile service, that we have a stable, sustainable spectrum pipeline. Spectrum is a critical foundation of the app economy, and well beyond 2016, of America’s long-term economic growth and opportunity.

Jake Ward is the acting president and co-founder of the Application Developers Alliance.