With the FCC taking multiple steps to expand the availability of unlicensed spectrum amid growing user reliance on untethered connectivity, the role and importance of this spectrum in the U.S. context is expanding and likely to expand further.
This evolving dynamic will be the topic of a series of posts, starting with this introduction. We hope it will trigger comments from experts and other interested parties in the U.S., and also from those who can draw comparisons with other countries and regions of the world.
Among the manifestations of this shift are new types of wireless service providers, including small startups like Republic Wireless and FreedomPop, large and well-established cable operators like Cablevision and Comcast, as well as municipalities and even local neighborhood groups. And, if industry rumors are correct, this expanding group will soon include Google, which is already providing disruptive competition in the wireline sector by deploying high capacity fiber optic networks in an expanding number of U.S. cities.
While these efforts differ in key respects (which will be discussed in future posts), what they have in common is that they are responding to a convergence of multiple factors, including:
- the rapid migration of mobile users to WiFi-equipped smartphones and tablets, and the increased ease with which these devices can toggle between WiFi and 3G/4G mobile data connectivity;
- the heavy data use this migration is fueling, especially as new generations of devices become better suited to support video and other high-bandwidth applications;
- the migration from unlimited data usage plans to data caps by cellular carriers, especially industry leaders Verizon and AT&T, a dynamic that encourages increased use of WiFi as a means to increase data usage while remaining below these caps;
- the increasingly widespread availability of WiFi hotspots, in public places and also in homes served by high-speed wireline connections;
- the prospect of increased availability of unlicensed spectrum in the future;
- ongoing improvements in the performance of WiFi technology;
- the availability of wholesale MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) arrangements that can supplement a WiFi-based service offering to provide more seamless and reliable coverage.
These developments seem to bode well for an expansion of competitive options in the wireless connectivity sector, though it remains to be seen if and how they will impact dynamics in the wireline sector, where the lack of competitive options is most severe.
In future posts I’ll be discussing in more detail the trends, players, issues and implications related to the evolving role of unlicensed spectrum in the U.S. communication sector. As noted above, comments are welcome, including those drawing comparisons with unlicensed spectrum developments in other nations and regions of the world.