Mobile Future

Cleveland Rocks and Other Wireless News

Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously cleared a bill requiring the FCC and the Commerce Department to conduct annual audits of our wireless airwaves. The goal is to create a better, more efficient use of the nation’s radio spectrum.

If you want to know why Congress desperately needs to pass this legislation, take a look at Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, Cleveland.

Last Thursday, the city’s water authority announced plans to install 435,000 wireless meters to monitor water usage. The department acted after seeing the benefits from similar programs in Cincinnati (235,000 wireless readers) and Akron (87,000).

Cleveland’s decision points up one of the biggest trends in wireless service — a development with huge implications for the rest of us. The mobile Internet is exploding. About 74 million Americans will use the mobile Internet this year through either traditional browsers or installed applications and that number will nearly double to 134 million by 2013.

This year’s cavalcade of cool new smartphones is a key driver of this growth. A single high-end smartphone generates more data traffic than 30 traditional cellphones. And a laptop aircard generates more traffic than 450 such cellphones, according to a Cisco study.

But what’s truly remarkable about this Mobile Revolution is how quickly it’s moving beyond consumers. Think Terminator II meets your home appliances. In the coming years, everything from your refrigerator to your air conditioner to your wristwatch will be sending out wireless signals.

Actually, it’s already happening. In several cities, wireless transmitters inside parking meters beam notices that space is available or that the meter time has expired. Wireless systems are now being used for law enforcement (gunfire detection), home security, traffic monitoring (immediate accident reports), and care for persons with such disabilities as Alzheimer’s and autism.

And since Congress is working feverishly to reign in health care costs, consider this: The monthly fee for a home monitoring system is about $100, compared with nursing home care which can run $200 per day.

The Senate bill is part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to expand broadband choice. The idea is that independent agencies would annually review usage and capacity of the spectrum and then recommend how to make more efficient use of these valuable channels.

A similar House bill was introduced but has not yet seen committee action.

Any federal strategy to promote affordable broadband has to include aggressive support for wireless. This effort to improve America’s wireless efficiencies is a key first step.

This item was orginally posted on Huffington Post on July 15, 2009.