Editor's Note: This opinion-editorial has been provided by Diane Smith. Smith, a former Alltel executive, serves on the board of Mobile Future (mobilefuture.org), an advocacy group for wireless infrastructure investments. She was co-founder and CEO of a ground-breaking IPTV and advanced media services company in Kalispell, Montana.
Every morning as I head out the door, I enagage in the universal “pat down” to ensure my trusted mobile device is close at hand, along with my keys and wallet. This daily routine plainly demonstrates just how much mobile innovation has changed the way we work, do business and stay connected to people and to innovations that expand our economy and improve our lives.
And nowhere is the promise of the mobile Internet -— and the next-generation networks that make it possible —- more apparent than in rural communities. Mobile connectivity gives businesses, located virtually anywhere, the opportunity to compete and succeed.
Earlier in my career, I worked for Alltel, headquartered in Little Rock. I was able to spend lots of great time in Arkansas and witnessed the rapid evolution of mobile services and technology in the state.
As an entrepreneur now living in Montana, I have seen first hand how expanding capacity and reaching into rural areas is a smart investment. Transitioning to next-generation networks and wireless technologies can help Americans living in rural communities more fully participate in the mobile revolution. Mobile technology has been my passport to business success. I started a technology company from a table in my local coffee shop. My first network was my cell phone. Because of the communications infrastructure available to me, I was able to grow and run my business where I wanted while keeping my finger on the pulse of my urban counterparts.
Carriers of all sizes are working relentlessly to deploy service far and wide, focusing a great deal of time and billions of dollars building out advanced networks to provide customers with robust service options.
No technology has come so far, so fast as the wireless web. Today, there are more mobile subscriptions than people in our country. And, by 2015, Cisco forecasts there will be nine networked devices for every man, woman and child.
This rapid pace of progress is unquestionably positive for our economy. But, the blistering evolution and demand for wireless connectivity is straining the airwaves that fuel our mobile ecosystem. Today’s smartphones on average generate 35 times more mobile data traffic than basic feature phones. That tablet in your hand? It burns through 121 times more wireless capacity than your smartphone.
Already, U.S. mobile networks operate at 80 percent of capacity, compared to a global average of just 65 percent. With Cisco predicting two billion networked mobile devices in the U.S. by 2015, it’s no surprise that the FCC is now warning that demand for mobile Internet may overwhelm existing capacity as early as next year.
Important ideas are now advancing to make sure this capacity is repurposed to its most critical modern use— expanding the mobile Internet. The FCC is advancing plans for voluntary incentive auctions that allow broadcasters to put their spectrum assets up for auction and share in the proceeds with the U.S. Treasury. And, leaders in Washington are looking at how more efficient spectrum use by government agencies can unlock greater expansion of the mobile Internet for the broad benefit of all Americans and the economy.
This is all good news for Arkansas. Freeing up more spectrum for mobile along with the transition to advanced networks will lead to expanded wireless connectivity and new waves of opportunity. Nearly two-thirds of small business owners, for example, say they couldn’t survive without wireless technologies. Given that two out of every three new U.S. jobs are created by small businesses, mobile connections are critical to Arkansas’ economy. Distance health care and learning opportunities —- key to rural life -— also are increasingly conducted via connected mobile devices.
As rural Americans embrace and increasingly rely on next generation networks and technologies, maintaining policies that encourage continued investment in advanced networks and allocating more spectrum to expand the mobile Internet must be among the nation’s highest technology and economic priorities. It’s time our nation’s leaders answered the call for sound policy and timely action to keep the mobile future on a positive growth trajectory for us all.