Today ACT launched its spectrum petition with a bang. Here is our ad in today’s Hill newspaper calling for Washington to free up more spectrum for mobile data. Many app developers are deeply concerned that the coming spectrum shortage threatens the future of our mobile economy. Some are featured here below. You can lend your support today by tweeting the petition with the hashtag, #MoreSpectrumPlease
Archive for the ‘Spectrum’ Category
In October, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a framework to address the looming spectrum crisis. If you’ve ever experienced sluggish internet access or dropped calls on your mobile device, you have a hint about what lies ahead.
Over 50% of wireless customers are now using smartphones. The widespread adoption of these devices is occurring at a faster rate than any other technology. Ever. Faster than electricity, the internet, radio, or TV. As mobile device usage grows, the amount of data filling the airwaves is doubling every year.
Our existing wireless infrastructure is struggling to manage all this traffic and will be unable to handle its continued growth. Wireless spectrum – the airwaves over which mobile voice and data travel – is a scarce resource. Most spectrum is controlled – and underutilized – by broadcasters or the government. Only a small percentage is allocated to consumers for wireless data.
The FCC expects demand for wireless spectrum to exceed our resources at some point next year. This will leave consumers struggling to find a connection and could cripple the app marketplace. To avoid this outcome and ensure that the mobile economy can meet consumer needs, the federal government must make more spectrum available. A lot more.
Its first step is the FCC’s planned incentive auctions to free up broadcaster spectrum for mobile communications. As a small business developer and mentor to young app makers, I see new companies innovating every day on wireless data networks. The way these spectrum auctions are managed in Washington will have a profound impact on my business and the future of an app industry experiencing explosive growth.
Mobile apps have become a force in our economy in a very short period of time. When Apple introduced the App Store in 2008, it sparked a renaissance in the software industry. Independent developers accustomed to working on enterprise software projects discovered a new platform where they could write standalone consumer-facing products. Developers found they could quickly bring their ideas to market while avoiding traditional barriers to entry like up-front marketing costs, publisher delays, and piracy.
This fostered a new brand of entrepreneur and triggered a wave of innovation that in four years has produced a $20 billion marketplace. By 2015, the app economy is projected to top $100 billion. The meteoric growth of this industry during a global economic slowdown demonstrates its strength and potential. The emergence of the app economy is an example of American innovation at its best.
The abundance of wireless internet made this possible. Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we receive information because ubiquitous internet connectivity allows consumers uninterrupted access to data. Wi-fi can provide access through a patchwork of independent networks, but wireless carrier data services are the glue that ensures consumers can use their apps everywhere.
For this reason, the app industry needs the incentive auctions to succeed. The additional spectrum can help lessen the strain on our wireless networks, even though the net result will provide only limited relief. Given the scarce amount of spectrum available, it is absolutely crucial the Commission manages this process expeditiously and efficiently.
When the FCC begins reallocating the limited spectrum that becomes available, its top priority must be to keep pace with surging demand. Both licensed (carrier) and unlicensed (wifi) spectrum are essential for the mobile app marketplace to succeed. Neither can be neglected.
If the government acts quickly to make more spectrum available and encourages investment in our wireless infrastructure, consumers will continue to enjoy the innovations that make our lives better and our economy stronger. Failure to do so will yield masses of unhappy consumers and our app economy will grind to a halt.
Last night, the FCC unanimously approved Verizon Wireless’s proposed purchase of unused spectrum owned by a consortium of cable companies. This is a very positive step to alleviate the looming spectrum shortage that threatens the future of our mobile economy.
We’re pleased that the FCC is taking steps to allow more spectrum to be used for mobile broadband. The 20 Mhz of spectrum purchased by Verizon Wireless has been lying fallow and can finally be put to use to meet growing consumer demand. The continued build-out of wireless capacity through measures like these is crucial for continued growth of mobile internet and data services as well as overall economic growth.
Smartphones and wireless internet availability have fostered incredible innovation, which touch all areas of the economy. Businesses and consumers have benefitted from a revolution in logistics as shippers can locate any package in transit; doctors can remotely monitor their patients’ health through mobile apps such as Airstrip; IT workers can remotely monitor the health of business networks; employees can participate in online business meetings, and students and professors can take part in online discussions, all wirelessly. Documents can now be stored and accessed from “the cloud,” with availability anywhere there is a mobile signal. And people can now access entertainment and news media anywhere at any time. But all of these applications require wireless bandwidth dependent on increasingly congested spectrum.
We’ve had the statistics in this space before: mobile apps are a $20B industry that didn’t even exist four years ago. 85% are written by small businesses. It’s estimated that the average 4G connection generated 28 times more traffic than the average non-4G connection. Mobile data traffic is further expected to increase 18-fold between 2011 and 2016. Our developers have not stopped innovating, and the devices our programs run on keep selling.
But opportunities for our members, and the larger mobile ecosystem, will be dashed if we do not find a way to quickly move additional spectrum into use. That’s why we see the FCC’s approval of the Verizon-cable deal and the Verizon-T-Mobile swap as good news because spectrum must be in the hands of those best able to make it available to the market, and a healthy secondary market in spectrum will make that spectrum useful more quickly.
App developers are excited about the latest tablet release from Apple. We have created over two hundred thousand apps for the iPad which has proved to be an exceptional tool for entertainment, productivity, personal health, and early education. With 55 million iPads sold, and 25 billion iOS apps downloaded, it is a great platform for developers. Providing over $4 billion in revenues for developers, Apple’s continued development of hardware to support iOS is incredibly valuable to app makers.
Incorporating quad-core video processing combined with LTE connectivity will improve the speed at which users can consume video and other data-intensive content. The improved integration of cloud services makes productivity applications more useful. And the new retina display provides much improved resolution to deliver high definition entertainment and gaming content to consumers.
However, the new iPad’s retina display could pose serious challenges for app developers. To update existing apps for the new iPad, graphics must be upconverted to a much higher resolution. This will result in larger graphic files, nearly doubling the overall size of many apps. Apps over 20MB in size can only be purchased through a WiFi connection, not through 3G or LTE networks. The increased resolution will make it more difficult for developers of feature-rich or graphic-intensive apps to stay under the 20MB threshold. Studies have shown that eliminating consumers’ ability to buy apps over 3G or LTE networks depresses sales by 40%.
This is a problem that finds its root in the scarcity of available spectrum. A shortage of licensed spectrum is leading carriers to impose limits on user access in order to prevent their networks from being overwhelmed. Congress recently approved voluntary auctions to free up a limited amount of spectrum, but demand for wireless data four years from now is expected to be 18 times greater than it is today. We need to free up the huge swaths of spectrum held unused by government agencies and the old, over-the-air television system in order to avoid wireless gridlock. Only government action can ‘shake the tree’ and get this spectrum into the marketplace where it belongs to relieve the congestion.
We hope that the FCC and other agencies take a hard look at where the tablet and smartphone marketplace is heading. They must recognize that innovation, and U.S. leadership in the $68 billion mobile apps economy, will be imperiled by a failure to meet the huge spectrum demand we face.
This comes just as app makers are facing the daunting reality that they will have to upgrade the graphical displays of their iPad apps to the high resolution required for Apple’s newest tablet release. In many cases this will double the size of their apps and make it impossible for them to be downloaded under the 20MB limit imposed by the carriers.
For developers, this limitation will obviously serve to curtail our expansion and innovation into apps that provide feature-rich content requiring greater data usage. This is hugely disappointing to the mobile app developer community.
But what we can’t say is that we didn’t see this coming. For months, we have been beating the drum to get more spectrum, towers and fiber into the system as soon as possible to alleviate the very obvious explosion in data usage.
Every day we saw new statistics about the number of mobile apps in the marketplace, and the 9000% increase in data used by those apps. Without some kind of increase in the infrastructure that supports the mobile ecosystem, limitations like today’s were a foregone conclusion.
On the wireline side we have seen data rates per dollar skyrocket. It’s not unusual for today’s FiOS customer to get 25 Megabit per second download speeds and very nearly limitless data usage for what 10 years ago would have gotten you only a step or two above dialup.
Cable companies add the advantage that they could put more fiber, the medium through which information travels, into use without asking for permission.
However for wireless, spectrum is the medium, and a finite resource. Right now, huge swaths of spectrum are held, but unused by government agencies, and more is tied up with the old over-the-air television system. Only government action can “shake the tree” and get more spectrum into the marketplace to relieve the congestion.
We hope that the FCC and other agencies take a look at AT&T’s actions as a clear message and move quickly to auction off the currently discussed spectrum allocations as well as beginning the push to free up other spectrum controlled, but unused by the Department of Defense and other agencies.
[Crossposted from CNET]
So here are some basic facts, and some pretty clear suppositions:
1. Data use by mobile devices has exploded -spectrum is the transmission medium for the data explosion
2. The transmission of data over a band of spectrum is limited by several things, including power of the transmitter, distance the information must travel, interference patterns, even atmospheric conditions
3. There are laws of physics limitations to how much data you can fit in a given amount of spectrum
Now, on to some pretty safe suppositions:
There are almost certainly places where spectrum is not overtaxed – in fact there may even be a spectrum glut. These places have one thing in common – no one lives there! If a chunk of spectrum – let’s call it “chunk A”, is underutilized in Laramie WY, I can’t magically make that empty chunk of spectrum useful in San Francisco because that “chunk A” is already in use in San Francisco.
Here’s an analogy: I know there are empty stretches of highway in South Dakota right now, but I can’t make that empty highway work to relieve traffic congestion in Washington DC. So you can be “right” that there is underutilized spectrum, but wrong because the spectrum isn’t useful in solving problems where we need it.
Conspiracy theories about carriers intentionally hoarding spectrum fall short pretty quickly when you look at the natural instinct to maximize profits. If the carriers had spectrum reserves in places like Chicago or San Francisco, then it would be a bad business decision for them to spend billions more on spectrum that they don’t need. Even if they wanted to sit on it for later use, they would have to justify to shareholders “sitting” on billions in value, with some ephemeral future payout. That just flies in the face of basic business logic. Make no mistake, I don’t look at the carriers as our BFFs, I look at them as needed providers of the kinds of services we need to make our mobile apps work. I know that I can count on them to try and make more money by getting more customers, or providing better services to the customers they already have.
Which brings me to the other obvious tinfoil hat part of your screed. Do you remember when the iPhone 3G came out and several reviewers made comments like “It’s a great phone, other than the ‘phone’ part”? That was not helpful to carriers. In fact it almost certainly cost them customers and service upgraders. The fact that in every major city in America people are constantly complaining about dropped calls, data dropouts and loss of service hurts the carriers far more than it hurts Apple or HTC or Moto – the handset guys aren’t seen as the problem, the service provider is. And if you live in a major city with inconsistent service, when it comes time to consider upgrading to a better data plan, part of your brain says: “why upgrade? the service sucks!” No business wants customers to walk away from either service or upgrades.
So the fact that the carriers are willing to stick their necks out and essentially say “hey, if we get more spectrum lit, you’ll get better service” puts them in a position of either delivering, or losing customers. Which brings me back to point one: if they could keep customers happy without having to pay billions for more spectrum, they would.
Verizon and AT&T are engaged in a (good) war of increasing customer expectations. The ads about “widest coverage” or “fastest service” are there to convince us to upgrade or change carriers. I don’t doubt that carriers will try to do everything possible to spend as little as they can to give us the service we all want – but I do know that they are in an endless chase to increase number of customers, and increase revenue from each customer. And they can’t do that if their service sucks.
Thankfully, an agreement has been reached on the payroll tax cut legislation that provides for open and fair spectrum auctions allowing anyone to bid. App developers have long advocated for increased spectrum as wireless networks are approaching saturation. Our apps need connectivity to run and our customers want to access them everywhere. Improved unlicensed spectrum is important, yet we also need more licensed spectrum to provide users the ubiquitous access they demand. We are happy that the competing factions in Congress finally came to an agreement, but it will only be judged a success by app developers if it results in more licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
Platform:Apple iOS, Android
Traveling from your hotel on the strip to the show floor, one of the things CES attendees notice most dramatically is the unreliability of wireless connectivity. In a hugely saturated environment, with users overwhelming resources, getting regular communications access is a challenge. Ookla’s speedtest helps to identify the speed and throughput of wireless communications wherever you are. While this is essential at CEA, it can also help identify holes in your home network coverage, connectivity availability in the subway, and signal strength of public wifi hotspots.
Almost exactly a year ago we went to CES in Las Vegas and met up with many of our app developer members to look at the year ahead. It felt like 2011 was gearing up to be an exciting year of growth, but also when app developers would attract the attention of policy makers. We feared a storm may be brewing in Washington and this turned out to be bigger than we imagined.
In March, a group of Senators tried to compel app stores to remove their traffic apps holding a press conference outside Apple’s Madison Avenue store. ACT took a public stand against this intervention, warning that arbitrary government interference in the iPhone, Android, RIM and Windows mobile application stores would severely constrain the app marketplace.
April was the start of a huge policy debate around apps and privacy. ACT applauded the actions taken by Apple to encrypt location data and encouraged other companies like Google to take consumer privacy seriously. Calls in Washington to regulate apps were growing louder and we strongly felt it was time for app developers to join the conversation.
The Wall Street Journal’s attack on mobile apps and privacy really set the tone for the rest of the year. At every level of government, policy makers were asking questions about app developers, and how they should be regulated. From the House and Senate to federal agencies like the FTC, ACT and our developer members were grilled about how we were protecting consumer information. While it has certainly been rocky, there were bright spots:
We brought 30 developers from across the country to Washington, DC to meet with their elected representatives. Our rock star developers wore out their shoes trekking from office to office taking their message of regulatory restraint to more than 50 Capitol Hill offices.
ACT President Jonathan Zuck and Executive Director Morgan Reed both testified in front of the United States Senate in support of mobile developers. The only voice for app makers at these hearings, ACT was well received and elected officials from around the world continue to seek our guidance on issues facing small business technology companies.
We testified in front of the House Commerce Committee, and helped to remind Members of Congress that mobile developers aren’t built by some secretive large company, but instead are developed by small businesses spread throughout the world and in every Congressional District. Our stories – our members’ stories – had a huge impact. The Commerce Committee took Morgan’s opening remarks and made it the video centerpiece on their website discussing the hearing.
The Apple World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco in June was a great time to reconnect with existing ACT supporters and app developers including My Busy Kit, iHomeEducator, iStoryTime, and NSC Partners. We discussed policy at iOS DevCamp and sponsored the “Just Crazy Enough It Might Work” category in a multi-day hackathon. Superstar developer team Cindy Pavlinac and Martin Gregory produced an app entitled “Dog Play Date,” a social networking app for dogs. We’re excited to see where this beta app may go!
August is usually a slow month in Washington DC, but not this past year. The Federal Trade Commission fined the developer of Emily’s Girls mobile apps $50,000 for violating children’s online privacy laws. The FTC then turned its attention to rewriting privacy regulations affecting all developers. Other federal agencies began work on broad new rules that could close revenue streams by curtailing developers’ ability to serve ads and track performance. ACT offered its support for protecting children online but cautioned regulators against overreaching in a way that would punish the whole industry.
In November, Morgan Reed spoke at DC WEEK highlighting app developers’ need for more spectrum. Reprising issues raised with the FCC and in congressional meetings, Morgan addressed the looming spectrum crisis urging the government to increase availability so developers may continue to meet customers’ increasing demand for bandwidth-intensive apps. You can read more about apps and the spectrum crunch on Morgan’s Huffington Post page.
During the last month of 2011, ACT’s Morgan Reed addressed the MoDevEast Developer conference calling on app makers to “check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Discussing the importance of privacy and security, Morgan alerted attendees about pending regulatory actions and offered suggestions on how to best serve customers’ privacy needs.
What will 2012 look like for app developers? As the impact of apps on people’s every day lives increases, so will Washington’s interest in regulating this space. It’s important for app developers to be responsible and hold the trust that consumers give with their private information. It’s equally important for policy makers to be mindful of how the policies they craft will impact small app developers like so many of our members. We will continue to speak on behalf our members and look forward to another great (busy!) year.