Wireless Broadband: Markets, Models and Spectrum

Wireless broadband has arrived. Looking back a decade from now, 2010 may be seen as a watershed year, when wireless broadband proved its ability to deliver Internet connections in the United States at a speed and quality approaching or even exceeding the prevalent wireline alternatives. The entry of wireless broadband could, therefore, have a profound impact on the economic structure of the communications marketplace and on the evolution of Internet-based business models.

Tags: Spectrum Policy / Technology Policy

Wireless broadband has arrived. For anyone that has replaced their landline phone with a wireless phone, or that has purchased a 3G smartphone or iPad, it will come as no surprise that innovative wireless technology and wireless services are a major driver of economic growth in the United States. Over the past 15 years, while the rest of the economy grew at roughly 3% annually, wireless services experienced annual growth of over 16%.

Silicon Flatirons’ conference, Wireless Broadband: Markets, Models and Spectrum, will examine the emerging wireless broadband marketplace. In particular, it will analyze opportunities for disruptive innovation, the nature of the changing business models, issues associated with spectrum management, and the potential public policy responses. In so doing, Silicon Flatirons will bring together a broad group of experts – policymakers, lawyers and business – to discuss these issues.

The outset of the conference will feature a tutorial on wireless broadband by Silicon Flatirons’ Executive Director Dale Hatfield. Mr. Hatfield is a frequent speaker on spectrum policy and wireless issues. He is recognized as a national thought-leader in the area and currently co-chairs NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee.

The first panel, Disruptive Innovation and a Changing Technological Environment, will consider technological enablers and opportunities that will accompany wireless traffic growth. By the end of 2014, Cisco projects that the demand for North American wireless networks will increase by 40 times, and Morgan Stanley estimates that mobile data usage will increase by 4,000 percent. Without question, there are major development and investment opportunities to be exploited, both domestically and internationally, in wireless technology, wireless infrastructure and wireless services nationwide.

The second panel, Changing Business Models and Emerging Opportunities, will focus on the business implications of wireless demand and opportunities for new business models, whether from existing players or new ones. Intimately related to increased investment in network infrastructure and capacity, many of the network and content providers that make up the Internet “ecosystem” are under increasing pressure to alter their business models. From an architectural perspective, will these wireline networks need to be reconfigured to support the explosive growth in demand for wireless access? Should incumbents be concerned with Google’s upcoming “experiment” with bringing a high-speed 1 Gps fiber-to-the-home network to one or more communities in the U.S.? From the content perspective, what would this kind of bandwidth do to existing cable companies and their business models? Will all media distribution finally converge onto the Internet Protocol Standard-what happens when we get there? There look to be serious implications for both content and network providers alike.

Finally, our third panel, Public Policy Implications, will consider the regulatory aspects associated with wireless broadband. The National Broadband Plan comes with a host of recommendations that are generally aimed at increasing the availability of high-speed Internet nationwide, and specifically emphasizes wireless broadband as a means to that end. Many parts of the Plan depend on the FCC having jurisdiction over the Internet, however, but the recent Comcast court decision calls the FCC’s regulatory power, and thus many parts of the Plan, into question. What will the FCC do to ensure its ability to protect consumers with respect to broadband services, wireless and otherwise? What are the implications of the various actions the FCC might take? Is this really a wakeup call to Congress to amend the increasingly outdated Act itself?

Additionally, the National Broadband Plan discusses at length the scarcity of spectrum available for wireless broadband. The FCC, Congress, and industry players are all calling for significantly more spectrum to be made available for wireless broadband purposes. By some estimates, even the relatively large amount of spectrum being called for-approximately 500 MHz-may not be enough. The looming question then is, where do we find the additional spectrum and, if necessary, what re-shuffling of current spectrum use makes sense?

Finally, assuming the regulatory issues are solved and the projected spectrum needs are met, there is still the question of infrastructure and investment. Some analysts say that within five years or less, more users will connect to the Internet through mobile devices than desktop PCs (see the 2010 Morgan Stanley Internet Trends report). This has major implications for network providers in that there will likely be a concurrent explosion of data traffic on their networks-some of which can already be seen with the significantly increased data usage patterns of iPhone owners who, according to research by Consumer Reports, use on average nearly 273 MB of data per month (or nearly twice the amount of data used by owners of other smart phones). How will the networks handle this increase? Will investment be sufficient to supply the infrastructure build out necessary to support this explosive demand? Will broadband infrastructure deployed through use of stimulus funds make an appreciable impact on broadband access and availability? As the demand strains existing capacity in the near term, what role will network management techniques and the Net Neutrality debate play in the wireless broadband world?

Silicon Flatirons looks forward to a stimulating discussion on September 8. Panels and speakers are provided below. We hope that you will join us.


Welcome and Wireless Broadband Tutorial
  • Dale Hatfield
    Spectrum Policy Initiative Co-director and Distinguished Advisor, Silicon Flatirons

Disruptive Innovation and a Changing Technological Environment
  • JP de Vries — Moderator
    Director Emeritus and Distinguished Advisor, Silicon Flatirons
  • Roger Marks
    VP of Technology Standards, WiMAX Forum
  • Mark McHenry
    Founder, Shared Spectrum Company
  • Erwin Hudson
    Chief Technology Officer, WildBlue
Changing Business Models and Emerging Opportunities
  • Raymond Gifford — Moderator
    Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
  • Andrew Newell
    General Counsel, Viaero Wireless
  • Phil Kelley
    Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Strategy, Crown Castle International
  • Paul Mitchell
    General Manager of Policy and Standards, Entertainment and Devices Division, Microsoft Corporation
  • Jeffrey Carlisle
    Executive Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, LightSquared
  • Teresa Elder
    President of Strategic Partnership and Wholesale, Clearwire

Public Policy Implications
  • Brad Bernthal — Moderator
    Associate Professor, University of Colorado Law School
  • Michael Senkowski
    Partner, Chair of the Telecommunications Practice
  • Kathleen Ham
    Senior Vice President, Govenment Affairs, T-Mobile
  • Brett Glass
    Founder and CEO, Lariat.net
  • Jennifer L. Richter
    Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Joan Marsh
    Vice President Federal Regulatory, AT&T

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