A new study from consulting firm Deloitte suggests that the rollout of 4G wireless networks could boost gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S., add hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute billions of dollars in new investment in American infrastructure.
The 4G platform, also known as long-term evolution (LTE), offers the latest high-speed wireless services on company networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless. 4G promises wireless Internet speeds up to 10 times faster than existing networks, which means those video downloads, data sharing and Internet surfing experiences will be much speedier and more robust.
Verizon has begun rolling out its 4G networks in Arkansas in August and AT&T is ramping up to follow suit starting as early as next year.
The Deloitte study predicts that as telecommunications firms advance their 4G networks, the U.S. economy could see investments anywhere between $25 billion and $53 billion in new fiber lines, cell towers and other infrastructure to carry increasing data. That could translate to as many as 771,000 new jobs and up to $151 billion in spurred GDP. The estimates of investment growth depend on how rapidly telecoms move to advance their systems.
"Investment in such a powerful form of communication contributes to the economic recovery and provides a job-creating engine for the future," Phil Asmundson, a consultant for Deloitte, said in this interview with CNet.com.
For Verizon Wireless and AT&T, there are different factors driving their 4G deployment.
Verizon, which bought Alltel Wireless in 2008, is utilizing spectrum bought in a 700 mHz auction a few years ago. It has already rolled out 4G in northwest Arkansas and will be in Jonesboro and Fort Smith by mid-September.
In a recent Talk Business interview, Verizon Wireless’ South Central regional president Steve Smith said that central Arkansas would be blanketed by year’s end.
In a follow-up for this article, Smith said that he sees 4G doing more to increase private investment rather than his company’s Arkansas workforce.
“We don’t expect any increase in our employment levels based on our 4G LTE rollout,” Smith said. “The addition of 4G LTE is certainly a catalyst for growing any business. In Arkansas, and anywhere, the result of having access to mobile high speed broadband technology makes the purchase and delivery, and customer service side of any business incredibly fast and more productive. The mobility of that broadband technology is extremely important for commerce, especially in the two very important areas of health care and education, where it enables the extension of capabilities.”
While industries like teaching and telemedicine will be greatly enhanced by 4G, so will traditional industries like construction and farming. 4G will allow a construction foreman to transmit progress from a worksite to a client or home office instantly. A farmer in a field in rural Arkansas could upload row crop data in a near-instant flash or check ever-changing commodity prices in an effort to maximize profits.
AT&T Arkansas President Eddie Drilling sees transformative value in 4G for his firm and its customers.
"As customers continue to adopt new technologies like AT&T U-verse and mobile broadband, we will continue to see employee job growth in those new fields," Drilling tells Talk Business.
His firm, which is vying to merge with the nation’s No. 4 telecom T-Mobile, wants to tap into T-Mobile’s prized 1700 and 2100 MHz spectrum. In short, this spectrum and the highly-coveted 700 MHz owned by Verizon offer uncluttered airwaves dedicated for the transmission of data. Their bandwidth strengths will form the backbone for 4G service.
While Drilling hopes that federal regulators sign off on the AT&T and T-Mobile deal rapidly, he hopes to see private enterprise flourish with the new speeds.
"The merger would bring new private investment to the state, creating new technology-based jobs with AT&T and our contractors," he said. "Beyond that, access to 4G will open the way for entrepreneurs, small businesses and others to grow and be more successful, which has long term benefits for the Arkansas job market."
Drilling’s and Smith’s optimism is also shared by others keeping a close eye on the deployment of the new technology.
Sam Walls, President of Connect Arkansas, an extension of Arkansas Capital Corp. dedicated to improving broadband access in all parts of the state, sees mobile devices as crucial for job growth in rural Arkansas.
Walls thinks 4G could help parts of Arkansas overcome the digital divide, a description of the chasm that exists between urban Internet access and rural parts of the state.
"The Internet today is characterized by it’s movement to mobile devices. As the capability of these tools continues to increase, with the advancement of 4G, they offer amazing opportunity to expand utilization of Internet technology. Application development and growth will expand along with 4G technology following the previous experience with 3G," said Walls.
"Not only does it hold the promise of expansive use of new applications, it also will be the solution to access issues which exist in the current digital divide," Walls added.