OPINION

Opinion: 'Spectrum crunch' could severely hinder the mobile innovations and services

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Customers browse new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus at the Apple Ginza store on September 25, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. Apple is launching iPhone 6s and 6s Plus in 12 regions including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the U.K., and the U.S.  (Photo by Ken Ishii/Getty Images)

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 25: Customers browse new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus at the Apple Ginza store on September 25, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. Apple is launching iPhone 6s and 6s Plus in 12 regions including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the U.K., and the U.S. (Photo by Ken Ishii/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

More than any other segment of the U.S. population, Latino consumers and businesses rely on mobile technology for communication and Internet access. Advancements in mobility have allowed us to thrive in our everyday lives, create new businesses, find jobs, stay informed and participate in our communities more than ever before.

There are no signs of these trends slowing down anytime soon. However, there is a threat on the horizon known as the “spectrum crunch” that could severely hinder the mobile innovations and services upon which we depend on so greatly.

Just as important as keeping up with mobile broadband data and communications demands is the need to maintain the enormous impact that spectrum has on the economy, and as a result, the opportunity it provides for Latino businesses.

- Allen Gutuerrez

The number of mobile consumers continues to increase in this country, and innovations such as on-demand service applications, premium streaming video, and technologies encompassing the connected home and Internet of Things are becoming integrated into everyday personal and professional activities. Because of this, much more of the dedicated radio frequencies used to transport mobile data, known as spectrum, will be needed to keep up with demand. 

This problem becomes urgent when you look at expert projections over the next four years. Research from CTIA, the Wireless Association, reveals that there will be six times more mobile data traffic by 2019. Without additional licensed spectrum for the mobile industry to carry all of the required data, networks will be overloaded and essential services slowed to a crawl.

For Latinos, who utilize mobile service more than other populations, the looming spectrum shortage quickly becomes a communication and broadband access crisis. The Federal Communications Commission has sanctioned an auction of broadcast industry spectrum next year which will bring some new licensed spectrum for mobile networks, but not nearly enough. Analysis from the Brattle Group concludes that demand for spectrum will begin outpacing available supply in just a few years and by 2019, 366 MHz of licensed spectrum will be needed to meet the skyrocketing demand for data. 

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More troubling is the fact that just under a third (98.5 MHz) of the 300 MHz of spectrum needed by this year according to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan from five years ago, has been made available so far.

Just as important as keeping up with mobile broadband data and communications demands is the need to maintain the enormous impact that spectrum has on the economy, and as a result, the opportunity it provides for Latino businesses. The Brattle Group again points out that the spectrum used by U.S. mobile networks accounts for more than $400 billion in economic activity each year. 

In addition to this annual boost from the mobile industry alone, consider the many sectors that did not exist just a few short years ago, but now provide growth and opportunity for Latino small businesses thanks to licensed spectrum for mobile.

Take the app economy for example. A survey from the Association from Competitive Technology found that 78 percent of mobile app companies in the U.S. are small businesses. Consider the telehealth industry: Market research analysts predict that the telehealth market is expected to rise from $240 million two years ago to a staggering 1.9 billion in three years. This industry, and so many others that are rapidly integrating themselves into the mobile space, provide opportunities for minority entrepreneurs and businesses both big and small to climb the socioeconomic ladder faster than ever before. 

In this regard, increased spectrum would play a part in breaking down barriers to opportunity.

The Latino Coalition urges lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the FCC and NTIA to consider the value of mobile service and technology to our community, and the opportunity it provides for our businesses. We ask that they work together to develop policies that ensure a consistent pipeline of licensed spectrum is maintained so that mobile technology continues to innovate, power the U.S. economy and remain accessible to everyone for many years ahead.

Allen Gutierrez is the national executive director of The Latino Coalition, one of the largest membership and advocacy organizations for Latino-owned small and midsize businesses.  It is based in Washington, D.C. and Irvine, California.