CES 2016: Mobile driving disruptive innovation

Every January technologists from around the world descend on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic Show to catch a glimpse of the cutting edge trends driving our digital revolution. While this year was no different when it comes to awe-inspiring ingenuity, one advancement was glaringly obvious— the mobile future has arrived.  In fact, you were hard pressed to find technology that didn’t rely on mobility. With more cords being cut and more devices made smarter each year, mobility is the mainstay of disruptive innovation.

Impressive displays of emerging technology like connected cars, drones, and smart home devices were front and center on the floor— increasingly becoming seamless parts of everyday life. The buzz around town was that this year’s Consumer Electronic Show rivaled the Detroit Auto Show, featuring connected car technology that is redefining the driver experience. From driverless vehicles to enhanced car safety to advanced connected dashboard systems, the rapidly changing mobility and transportation industry is like a chameleon adapting to our connected, digital environment.  Beyond where the rubber meets the road, drones took to the Las Vegas skies with a record number of exhibitors in the unmanned systems marketplace. With the Federal Aviation Administration reporting 181,000 recreational drones registered in just one month, and final rules on commercial drones coming out in the spring, these flying smart gadgets are primed to play a major role in our mobile revolution.

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This year’s show also made it clear that more and more smart home products are becoming available to the average consumer. From smart lighting to alarm systems to thermostats, companies are working hard to make smart home devices accessible, harnessing mobile connectivity to make our home lives easier, safer, and more energy efficient.

Mobility was ubiquitous on the show floor, but mobile technology is also driving disruptive innovation behind the scenes. I had the opportunity to lead a panel examining how mobile broadband is revolutionizing the mining and analysis of hyperlocal data, giving us deeper insight into targeted trends that can inform everything from the way we manage our cities to improved healthcare delivery. The panelists shed light on the various ways in which hyperdata is ushering in what can only be described as a new paradigm.

In an unexpected moment, 4G LTE came to the rescue when one of our panelists, David Soloff, the CEO and co-founder of Premise, was unable to fly from San Francisco into Las Vegas due to poor weather conditions. Using FaceTime over a mobile broadband connection, David was able to participate in the discussion as if he were with us in person. More than the glitz of futuristic gadgets populating the show floor, this example reinforced the transformative impact mobile is already having on the lives of consumers across the country.

The role of mobile didn’t seem to be lost on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who took the stage to throw the spotlight on the FCC’s upcoming broadcast incentive auction, which Chairman Wheeler promised would be a “spectrum extravaganza.” This is encouraging given the dire need for spectrum in order to bolster mobile networks to meet the skyrocketing consumer demand for connectivity. The chairman’s confidence in the success of the auction was a nod to the dynamic and competitive nature of our wireless ecosystem, "You're going to see lots of interest in selling the spectrum, and lots of interest in buying the spectrum," Wheeler said, willing to “go to the bookies” to bet on the auction’s success.

While the upcoming auctions are absolutely vital to the onward progress of our mobile networks, the transformative innovation seen at CES is not happening in a vacuum— millions of American consumers are participating in and benefiting from the mobile revolution every day. But just last month the FCC released its annual wireless competition report that yet again refused to acknowledge the tremendous competition that millions of American mobile users see first-hand every day. It is regrettable that the FCC chooses not to recognize what is right in front of them— our nation's ever-changing wireless sector, fueled by $32 billion in annual investment, and endless choice of services, plans, carriers and devices, is the global gold standard of competition.

Smart devices, smart spectrum use and smart policies are all critical elements for the mobile future. This week, the House of Representatives will act on several pieces of legislation that could impact the U.S. mobile market. One key bill would prevent the FCC from regulating rates for broadband, an important step in today’s fast-moving communications arena and one that Wheeler himself was comfortable with at a Senate hearing last May. 

CES kicked off what is sure to be another incredible year of transformation as we enter the next mobile frontier. Let’s hope the forward-looking visionary spirit that defined this year’s show is not lost on regulators and lawmakers returning to Washington. Now is not the time to pump the breaks on the momentum behind disruptive mobile innovation and a bright mobile future.

Jonathan Spalter is chair of Mobile Future.

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