2024 Wireless in Focus: Spectrum

5G, Spectrum

This year, like many before it, is positioned to redefine the landscape of wireless connectivity. Trends tell us that American’s use of 5G technology and data consumption are continuing to escalate, reaching new, unforeseen levels. As we step into the future, one theme remains: the increasing demand for more spectrum.

Spectrum is the backbone of wireless that connects the world. However, spectrum is limited. As spectrum becomes scarce this presents a risk to future connectivity and innovation. 5G technology, powered by spectrum, has given us faster speeds, more reliable networks, and inspiration for the future. It’s made the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous cars, fixed wireless to the home, and smart cities all possible. With an even more connected environment, more spectrum is needed to ensure we don’t stifle these and future innovations. Welcome to 2024: We expect a wirelessly driven year in need of more spectrum!

Looking back

Last fall, the Biden Administration unveiled its National Spectrum Strategy. This long overdue plan represents a step in the right direction and rightly recognizes the significance of maintaining a cohesive national spectrum perspective. It identifies additional mid-band spectrum bands for exploration in commercial use, which can expand and improve service to all Americans. While necessary and important to eventually establishing a future pipeline of spectrum, this National Spectrum Strategy only scratches the surface in aligning the country on the issue of spectrum – at a time when we are already far behind.

Where we stand

Continued study of spectrum bands laid out in the National Spectrum Strategy should be the baseline. Without expanded band consideration and viable auctions, our strategy holds back on the action needed to keep our wireless networks affordable and accessible. Right now, we are desperate for more spectrum to boost and encourage continued innovation and investment.

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently unauthorized to hold spectrum auctions, a lapse that is unprecedented. Despite a coordinated legislative effort and bipartisan agreement on reauthorization, Congress has still failed to act.

And lastly, on a global level we are being upstaged. Historically, the U.S. led the world in technological advancements and owned the conversation surrounding spectrum. Just think of 3G and 4G that paved the way for the smartphone and the many apps we use daily. The recent, 2023 World Radio Conference (WRC-23) made it clear that other countries are taking mid-band spectrum for 5G use seriously. However, at home the U.S.’s inability to act is giving way for other countries—even competitors like China—to lead in spectrum harmonization. This disconnect in leadership hurts us by leading to offshore manufacturing and stifling our long history of mobile innovation meant to make our lives more productive.

Looking ahead

It’s not all doom and gloom. Now is the time for the Administration, Federal agencies, and Congress to act.

The FCC needs immediate authority to hold auctions to support our increased demand for wireless connections and new devices. Congress can and must make FCC reauthorization a priority. Reinstated spectrum authority will allow the FCC to move on spectrum and prevent wireless technology that’s on the horizon from faltering.

While trailing behind from a global perspective, there is still opportunity to make up some ground. An aggressive timeline and quick implementation of the National Spectrum Strategy gives America the potential to pave the way. This means we must prioritize quickly licensing additional mid-band spectrum. We need to keep going to ensure the United States does not fall behind and that Americans continue to benefit from all that wireless has to offer.

The absence of additional spectrum, mixed with a growing demand for data and increased dependence on wireless connections, will translate to delayed connections and untapped progress. However, a strong, decisive approach in 2024 that takes the National Spectrum Strategy further, can enable us to reposition ourselves. The success of our wireless ecosystem, as well as the benefits Americans receive, comes down to enhanced investment, innovation, and access – factors all resting on spectrum.

The successful oversight of this finite resource will shape the way we live, work, and communicate for years to come.

So, what can we expect? Hopefully a lot more spectrum.