At best, Joshua Topolsky’s piece this afternoon was disingenuous. To suggest anything but the fact that our industry is the most innovative and competitive in the world is choosing to only see a fraction of reality.
Instead of being flippant, look at the facts. In the U.S., there are almost 303 million wireless subscribers who use 793 minutes per month and the average revenue per minute is $0.04. In the U.K., there are almost 80 million wireless subscribers who use 204 minutes per month and the average revenue per minute is $0.10. Quite simply, America has almost four times the number of subscribers who use almost four times the voice minutes than the British yet we pay almost a third of the price that the U.K. consumer does for those minutes. Looking at the number of wireless devices available in each country, the U.S. had more than 630 unique devices created by more than 32 different companies while the U.K. has 147 devices.
As anyone who has traveled to Britain can attest, people don’t talk in the U.K. on their devices; they text. Did you ever wonder why? I was talking with a reporter who is from London a few months ago. She said whenever she goes home for a visit, her friends yell at her to stop calling them and text instead because it’s “so expensive” to talk.
Let’s talk networks. In the U.S., our members allocated more than $24.9 billion in capital investments to improve their networks, add more towers so there’s more and better coverage, etc while the wireless providers in the five largest European countries (U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain) spent a combined $13.5 billion.
Right now, more than 98 percent of the U.S. population has 3G coverage, but we’re leading the world in 4G deployment. We have more than 93 percent of the global 4G LTE subscribers and more than 67 percent of the global mobile 4G WiMax subscribers. The U.K. doesn't have any LTE subscribers and 0.1 percent of global mobile WiMax subscribers. While 4G is increasingly already available for many consumers in the U.S., a recent report said that the 4G buildout could mean at least $25 billion in infrastructure investments; more than 371,000 jobs and more than $73 billion for the U.S. GDP until 2016.
Yet CTIA and the wireless industry agree with Joshua that we do not have enough bandwidth. In the last few years, we have been talking about the “looming” spectrum crisis. Consumers have created a “hockey stick” of demand to use their devices in ways that were unimaginable. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index has projected that wireless traffic will grow at least 56 times the number in 2009 by 2015. In this fast-paced and constantly evolving industry, people forget that Apple and Android opened their application stores in 2008. Three years later, there are more than 1.5 million apps from 28 different non-carrier stores on more than 11 different operating systems. There are apps that can do everything from remotely opening car doors to monitoring a person’s diabetes.
While the possibilities are endless for the next great app, our members are facing a crisis situation. Consumers are using their wireless devices so much that there are no more “tricks” or band-aid solutions to deploy on our networks. Instead, our members want to pay the U.S. Treasury billions for unused or underutilized spectrum from a number of sources such as the television broadcasters and federal government.
Once our members pay for this spectrum, it will fuel the “virtuous cycle” of innovation that has been in place since the industry started in 1983. With more spectrum, the network providers will improve their capabilities by making it faster and able to accept more users. Then the manufacturers will take advantage of these new opportunities in their next-generation devices. Then the apps and content creators will create new offerings so consumers, who ultimately benefit from this cycle, can enjoy the new and “hottest” wireless products and services.
The analogy on spectrum being similar to roads on a highway was inaccurate, so here’s a better explanation. Cars are like our mobile devices, such as cellphones, smartphones, tablets and wireless Internet cards. In the last ten years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of cars, or devices, and in the amount of time they‘re spending on the ‘roads’. To meet that demand, our members need more lanes, or spectrum. Otherwise, we‘ll have a significant traffic jam.
In 2010, our carrier members transmitted more than 388 billion MB of data. The Library of Congress has more than 22 million books in its catalog. If each book is equal to one MB, then wireless service providers are delivering two times the Library of Congress’ book catalog for wireless consumers every hour of every day of the year.
Experts predict that by the end of 2011, there will be more smartphones in the U.S. than feature phones. Since one smartphone equals 24 feature phones or one Apple iOS or Android device is the equivalent to 96 feature phones or four smartphones, our members need to get this spectrum now.
We don’t have time to waste.
P.S. Think I’m biased? I am. But I also have 85 slides that are cited from a number of well-respected third party sources that support everything I've just said.