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The collaboration that’s connecting the unconnected

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When I launched Broadcom in the early 1990s with the goal of revolutionizing digital connectivity, it was necessary to work closely with governments around the world, starting with cable set-top boxes. This new class of technology that Broadcom and others brought to market over the next 30 years were transformative and complex, presenting policymakers with a steep learning curve that, at times, led to delays in or barriers to innovation.

In response, some argued that governments can best help technological innovation by getting out of the way, but innovators such as Broadcom know it’s far better when policymakers and regulators keep pace with innovation and help make new life-enhancing technologies possible. When policymakers and innovators collaborate, they can unleash the future of the tech industry, bolster the broader economy, and improve the lives of billions.

I’ve seen first-hand how public-private collaboration has accelerated connectivity innovation, and there are compelling opportunities to continue this joint approach that has served the public so well. A great example of this from Broadcom’s early years took place when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside wireless spectrum for unlicensed use. This spectrum became an innovation sandbox for Broadcom, turning Bluetooth and Wi-Fi into two of the most successful wireless technologies of all time.

Decades later, in April 2020, the FCC made another important policy decision for connectivity when it voted to allocate 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, tapping a crucial spectrum band for making new, faster services publicly available. This groundbreaking act was the culmination of several years of public-private collaboration, with great leadership from then-FCC Chair Ajit Pai and Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, Brendan Carr, and Geoffrey Starks, along with bipartisan congressional advocacy spearheaded by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and others.

The impact of the FCC’s decision dramatically demonstrated the important role Wi-Fi plays in American society. Almost immediately, hundreds of new devices and services entered the U.S. market, including new internet gateways, smartphones, and laptops. Whether in urban or rural areas, Wi-Fi is essential to closing the digital divide, and proved to be one of the global economy’s virtual connective tissues during the pandemic.

And this is just the beginning. After shipping more than 1.3 billion Wi-Fi 6 and 6E chips over a two-year period, Broadcom was recently first to release a family of next generation Wi-Fi 7 chipsets, and thanks to advancements brought by unlicensed spectrum, improvements in health care, education, live entertainment, among others, are just around the corner.

How much the U.S. economy will benefit from the FCC’s April 2020 decision will partly depend on a more recent milestone of Washington action that kept pace with tech innovation: new bipartisan investments in broadband infrastructure. In addition, as part of the recently enacted CHIPS and Science Act, Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to recommend ways the government can accelerate migration to leading edge technology, starting with broadband. Expediting this migration would allow us to better connect the unconnected and accelerate the introduction of new 5G services. This will ensure America continues to lead the world in advanced technology while achieving greater energy efficiency and climate goals.

If there is one constant in the tech industry, it’s that innovation never stops and momentum drives progress. In implementing initiatives on unlicensed spectrum and broadband infrastructure, U.S. policymakers stayed abreast of technological change and unleashed innovation. And there are several ways the public and private sectors can build on those successes. First, the U.S. government can advocate for making unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum available on a global scale. Second, as part of her efforts to close the digital divide through equitable access, FCC Chair Rosenworcel is seeking to deploy Wi-Fi on school buses — a brilliant and timely initiative to help students keep pace with their classroom work. She and her FCC colleagues are also in a position to build on the historic April 2020 decision by completing a current rule designed to enable portable device operations for applications such as augmented and virtual reality.

Finally, policymakers seeking to look beyond the policy and technology horizon should consider expanding unlicensed spectrum availability into the 7 GHz band. Doing so would create yet another  innovation sandbox for next generation Wi-Fi and other forms of connectivity. 

During my tenure at Broadcom, including now as its Board Chair, I have been both participant and witness to a generation of the most transformative innovations in our history. The most rewarding of those breakthroughs came alongside or in response to collaborations with policymakers, creating economic opportunity, educational accessibility, and societal equity for billions all over the globe.

The best is yet to come, which is why it has never been more important for policymakers and innovators like Broadcom to deepen their partnerships and work in lockstep to futureproof our means for connectivity and close the digital divide.

Henry Samueli is founder and chairman at Broadcom.

Tags 5G Ajit Pai Anna Eshoo Bluetooth CHIPS and Science Act Digital divide FCC Geoffrey Starks Innovation Jessica Rosenworcel John Thune tech policy Technology Wi-Fi wifi wireless spectrum

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