Imagine you’re at a musical festival and you take a great selfie or the perfect video, but as you go to post it online, it just. won’t. load. Or maybe you’re meeting friends outside the stadium for the big game, but all you get is “message failed” when you try to figure out where everyone is.
Frustrating, right? These moments when technology seems to be failing you aren’t about your phone or even the quality of your network — they are a matter of too many people in one place, putting an overwhelming demand on the limited amount of airwaves used to transmit mobile data.
This limited amount of airwaves is known, in the industry, as spectrum.
Think of spectrum as a complex network of highways for data, and when it gets overused, it’s a little like a four-lane highway bottlenecking into two lanes — except the ensuing traffic jam involves mobile devices instead of automobiles. These are occasional inconveniences we’re used to dealing with as we head to the football game or make it out to the arena for a concert. Annoying, yes, but not a big deal in the grand scheme of things – you can always post that selfie on the ride home and still get as many likes.
But what if this wasn’t an occasional problem? What if it started happening every day? If we don’t act quickly to prevent these mobile traffic jams, known as a spectrum crunch, it could become our new reality.
Why's that? It is because over the next four years, consumer demand for mobile data is expected to grow by at least 42% annually.
Today, it takes only 3 days for consumers to use as much data as was consumed in the entirety of 2007; by 2020, the same amount of data could be consumed in a matter of minutes. Over the past five years alone, the number of adults with smartphones has doubled, and the number of mobile devices is predicted to balloon to an astounding 38.5 billion by 2020!
While demand for spectrum is increasing, it can take as long as 13 years for new spectrum to be released by the government and deployed for commercial use. And unfortunately, the federal government hasn’t placed nearly enough new spectrum in the current pipeline to keep up with growing demands.
We must move forward into the digital future with the tools and resources we require to thrive. Otherwise, without the spectrum we need, a crunch could be only a few years away.