Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Study: Additional Spectrum for Wi-Fi Promises Economic Benefits

A recent study commissioned by WifiForward concludes that additional unlicensed spectrum could contribute nearly $200 billion to the U.S. economy.

In order to mitigate the COVID-19 public health crisis, government officials have taken significant steps to "flatten the curve." As a result, many business establishments deemed to be "non-essential" are closed. So, too, are schools. The ability to work and learn remotely mitigates the economic and social impact of these measures. In-home Wi-Fi networks operating in unlicensed spectrum make this possible by allowing consumers to connect multiple end-user devices – laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.  to broadband facilities.

As a consequence, the use of both broadband and Wi-Fi has increased dramatically. NCTA – The Internet & Television Association reports that, since March 1, its cable operator members have witnessed a 20 percent increase in downstream traffic and a 34 percent increase in upstream traffic. Meanwhile, data released by Plume reveals that the number of Americans online at home during the day has increased 105 percent since January 29, from 22.6 to 46.2 million. The Free State Foundation can attest to this new reality, having conducted its first meeting by videoconference just a few days ago.

In a February 7 FSF Perspectives, I noted that, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi's global economic value in 2018 was nearly $2 trillion, of which 25 percent – $499 billion – was captured in the United States. In 2023, those numbers are expected to increase to $3.47 trillion and $993 billion, respectively.

A study released by WifiForward on April 13 predicts that additional Wi-Fi capacity could generate substantial economic gains. Specifically, it concludes that FCC proposals to allocate spectrum to unlicensed use in the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz bands could contribute more than $183 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years. This includes a $106 billion increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), $69 billion in producer surplus, and $8 billion in consumer surplus.

Thankfully, one day soon people will be able to return to their offices and schools. However, the long-term effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on how, and from where, people work and learn remain to be seen. One thing, though, is certain: Wi-Fi will continue to play an integral role.

The executive summary of the study by Dr. Raul Katz is available here.