Can You Hear Me Now? Spectrum is Shaping the Telecommunication Industry in an Increasingly Connected America

By: James Zino

The way in which Americans communicate has changed rapidly over the past decade, and the cellular phone has been at the forefront of this revolution, reaching levels of market maturation faster than any mainstream technology since the television. What started as a tool to place calls while on the go has evolved into a device with the processing power of a small computer, where millions of people call, text, tweet, video chat, and stream hours of content every day right from the palm of their hands. While there is no doubt that consumer technology has made incredible strides since the first iPhone ushered in a new product market in 2007 with estimated opening day sales of up to 1 million units, what has changed even more is the invisible infrastructure that allows consumers to be wirelessly connected from even the most remote parts of the country.

Although most Americans are familiar with the country’s “Big Four” national cellular providers, (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile), what actually enables these companies to provide wireless internet and cellular service is less well-known. This capability comes from certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, which have become an increasingly indispensable commodity for network providers as demand for cellular service surges. Control and licensing of radio spectrum is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). While the NTIA handles the use of spectrum for federal government purposes, the FCC administers spectrum regulation and licensing for all other uses, including state, local, and commercial functions.

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