Living in a mobile world

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The U.S. today leads the world in mobile. For the past 10 years, wireless companies have invested on average $23 billion a year in wireless networks.  Today, our nation is home to seven out of every 10 of the world’s LTE subscribers. We also were the first country to have a majority of its citizens own smartphones — and now 1 in 3 of us have tablets, too.
 
We’re putting these devices to work. Proud of how your Turkey turned out on Thanksgiving? You weren’t the only one. Instagramers shared a record 10 million photos on this year’s holiday. Carve that up among the $1 billion Facebook paid for Instagram, and that’s $100 for every quirky shot of turkey, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole.
 
Americans were divided on Election Day, but they were united in their use of mobile to exercise their freedom of speech. In fact, the election was the most Tweeted event in American history, at 31 million tweets. By comparison, in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets on Election Day. Now, we send that many every six minutes.
 
During the 2012 Olympics, fans were so enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts, pictures and videos that the International Olympic Committee had to make a plea to “take it easy,” so the massive influx of connected visitors didn’t crash London’s wireless networks.
 
The Federal Communications Commission began warning last year of the end of the mobile world as we know it. They forecast that fast-growing demand for mobile spectrum would begin to exceed existing supply as early as next year. Mobile data usage was growing exponentially at the time. What did it do in 2012? It doubled again. And, history may show 2012 to be a light year. Looking ahead, mobile data traffic is expected to grow 100-fold over the next 10 years. Video will lead the way. Americans watched 9.3 billion mobile videos in 2012, accounting for more than 50 percent of all wireless network traffic.
 
A world of dropped calls, slow-loading pages and failed applications is not acceptable to the nation’s 300 million wireless consumers, and Washington has picked up the pace in seeking to make more spectrum available to the public.
 
It’s a critical task. Today, wireless spectrum supports 2.4 million American jobs and adds $100 billion annually to U.S. GDP. Experts predict that an additional 500,000 jobs could be created if Washington can deliver on its promise to transition significant additional spectrum capacity to expanding the mobile Internet. Skeptical? Consider this one fact: iPhone 5 sales alone were forecast by some to move the entire $15 trillion U.S. economy by up to half a percent. How? Apple sold more mobile devices in 2012 than they’ve sold computers ever.
 
It’s not just the profound innovation—and consumer enthusiasm for it—that should leave us hopeful this holiday season.  Despite deep partisan divides, our nation’s leaders stood shoulder to shoulder, unanimously in fact, in declaring the United States’ unwavering commitment to “a global Internet free from government control.” America’s principled approach in Dubai last week reminded the world that American leaders of both parties can and should move beyond partisan politics when it comes to technology and innovation.
 
Here at home, the wheels of progress continue to turn. From Uber to Pinterest, nouns are becoming verbs across the innovation landscape. The Mars Rover has checked in on the red planet via FourSquare. What’s next? Big changes for that television in your living room?  Cash and credit cards becoming the new ‘snail mail’? With wireless, virtually anything is possible.
 
All due respect to the Mayans, our mobile future has only just begun.
 
Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served in the Clinton Administration as a director on the National Security Council. He resides in Berkeley, Calif.