Many time-honored rituals of the peaceful transfer of power were carried out on the U.S. Capitol steps this Friday. But one of them attracted nary a second glance from the news cameras and selfie sticks, although it is essential to the experience of virtually every supporter, protestor and onlooker who gathered in the nation's capital to witness the inauguration of our 45th president.
In anticipation of the one million visitors who were expected in DC for the inauguration, leading U.S. wireless companies invested millions in state-of-the-art mobile infrastructure in and around the U.S. Capitol and National Mall to increase network capacity on the big day up to 500 percent.
Many of these upgrades are permanent and will remain as lasting contributors to the district's wireless infrastructure — and a compelling "sneak preview" of network enhancements planned for other parts of the country throughout the year.
Further supplementing these efforts are numerous cells-on-wheels (affectionately known as COWs) that provide a temporary capacity boost for large-scale events.
Friday’s COWs are six times more powerful than those used when President Obama last took the oath of office in 2013. It's an essential technological leap when you consider the all-out race wireless companies are engaged in to ensure U.S. mobile infrastructure keeps pace with the fast-escalating demands of American consumers.
Consider these facts from eight short years ago:
In 2009, President Obama was considered tech forward for his deep affection for his Blackberry. Just 1 in 5 of us owned a smartphone. And, our "phones" were still primarily phones. We'd use them to text, email and even talk to people.
Today, 4 out of 5 of us own smartphones. On average, we spend about 2.5 hours a day on these beloved devices, using 9.3 trillion megabytes of data—the equivalent of streaming more than 18 billion hours of Netflix each year.
In 2009, there were no iPads, tablets or phablets. No Pinterest or Periscope. No Instagram or Snapchat. No official emojis (:-o). Yet, today, six billion emoticons are sent daily.
In 2009, 4G was in its infancy with speeds up to 10 megabits per second, enabling consumers to share the equivalent of 10 photos per second. Thanks to the $177.4 billion wireless providers have invested in U.S. mobile infrastructure since our current president first took office, 5G is being tested today by multiple wireless providers with speeds up to 12 gigabits per second. When you consider each gigabit is 1,000 times the speed of a megabit, that's fast enough to make the blink of an eye look like you're using the slow-mo feature on your smartphone.
Best of all, our nation's world-leading wireless infrastructure is spreading economic opportunities throughout our country. In 2009, the wireless sector employed more than 2.7 million people and contributed $100 billion to the U.S. economy. Today, we've nearly tripled that annual economic contribution ($282 billion) and support more than 4 million direct and indirect jobs.
So just as our nation witnessed a peaceful transfer of executive power, so did we, and will continue to, enjoy the rapid transfer of our data as we share our experiences with friends, family, constituents and the world.
Now that the oath is taken and the weekend's pomp and circumstance draws to a close, the real work begins — in the halls of Congress, at the White House, the FCC and beyond — to ensure in the years to come we have a similarly strong story to tell about the strength of U.S. wireless infrastructure, the robust private sector investment powering it forward and the extraordinary innovation and economic opportunity it is making possible throughout our democracy.
Nydia Gutierrez is executive director of Mobile Future, an association of cutting-edge technology and communications companies dedicated to educating the public on the broad range of wireless innovations transforming our society.
The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.