What Will We Do When Our Smart Phones Suffer a World Wide Wait?

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"(F)or every new media device, there are more and better ways of getting content. It is a challenge for us, getting our content out there..."

- Leslie Moonves, President and CEO CBS Corporation, 2011 PWC Annual Global CE0 Survey

If CBS head Moonves plans to capture the growing numbers of consumers using mobile devices, he should know that these devices will soon be starving for CBS content due to a looming shortage of spectrum.

Increasingly, the spectrum shortage means slower, clogged reception in American cities. The American love affair with smart phones and tablets means more devices on capacity-constrained networks and for some, slower and less reliable access.

U.S. smart phone sales have doubled from 2008 to 2010, and are expected to grow over 30 percent in 2011. Tablet PC growth has also skyrocketed, with 77 percent growth expected in 2011.

Americans love these devices as they provide access to so much - not only entertainment and games, but news, info and life changing apps, including those quickly revolutionizing health care.

But the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices is spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that smartphones consume 24 times as much data as traditional cell phones, while tablets can use as much as 122 times the data. Analysts forecast a 35 times increase in mobile broadband traffic over the next five years.

So we need to address the spectrum crunch. Americans rely on these miracle devices and they are increasingly essential for the military, health care, education, and business. Government and industry agree that additional spectrum is needed to avoid a devastating wireless traffic jam resulting in slower wireless speeds and unviewable video content in many U.S. cities.

More, a bipartisan consensus solution of reallocating underused spectrum has emerged from the FCC, and it has been embraced by lawmakers from both parties.

A large swath of valuable spectrum is now used by local broadcasters. A few decades ago for almost all Americans their only choice was an over the air (OTA) local television signal. Today, Americans get video from cable, satellite, fiber and wireless. Our research shows that only eight percent of Americans with TV rely exclusively on TV broadcast OTA.

Many policymakers agree that TV broadcasters, although only owning temporary licenses for spectrum, should be paid for this spectrum through proceeds from auction. However, this does require an act of Congress, which, given the looming problem, should be easy. Plus the solution of voluntary incentive auctions we estimate will also raise more than $30 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

The rest of the developed world, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy and Canada, have already identified additional spectrum for wireless broadband. If we want our citizens to access CBS anywhere as well as have access to almost a half million new applications, we have to act quickly to preserve our wireless future.



Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing some 2,000 consumer electronics companies. 

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