Economic Value of Unlicensed Spectrum to Reach More Than $834 Billion by 2020

Economic Value of Unlicensed Spectrum to Reach More Than $834 Billion by 2020

WifiForward Releases New Economic Assessment Outlining the Over $525 Billion in Value Added to the U.S. Economy in 2017 and the Potential for Future Innovation Unlocked by Unlicensed Spectrum.

Today, WifiForward, a coalition of companies, organizations and public sector institutions, released a new economic report, which finds that the value of unlicensed spectrum to the U.S. economy has grown by 129% since 2013.

The study* assesses the current and future value of Wi-Fi spectrum in the U.S. The report finds that unlicensed spectrum generated $525.19 billion in value to the U.S. economy in 2017, $29.06 billion of which contributed to the U.S. GDP, and projects the economic value of unlicensed spectrum in the U.S. to reach $834.48 billion by 2020.

“As an enabler of innovation, unlicensed spectrum continues to contribute to the United States’ economy more than ever imagined and the economic value will continue to increase, reaching a total of over $834 billion by 2020, an annual increase of 17%,” said Dr. Raul Katz.

“The unprecedented increase in economic value of unlicensed spectrum for the next three years will be driven on one side by the persistent growth in existing applications and technology, but, more importantly, the deployment of 5G networks, the efficiency contribution of IoT in vertical markets and an expansion of the Bluetooth-enabled ecosystem.”

The report also draws three topline conclusions:

  • The economic value of unlicensed spectrum increases over time: Because of its intrinsic characteristic as an enabling factor of production, unlicensed spectrum is a platform that complements other technologies (such as cellular) and promotes innovation (such as Bluetooth). In the future, 5G deployment and the Internet of Things (“IoT”) will become critical growth drivers.
  • While economic value continues to grow, the sources of economic value of unlicensed spectrum vary over time: While the economic value of unlicensed spectrum grows over time, the contribution of some technologies may increase and decrease following their specific product life cycle. That is the case with Wi-Fi tablets, which were a key source of value in the 2013 estimate, but started declining as a result of competitive and product substitution dynamics. But other Wi-Fi-dependent devices, such as video game consoles and intelligent personal assistants, produced far more value than predicted in 2013 (e.g. Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home).
  • If future assignment of unlicensed spectrum is not fulfilled, it is plausible to consider that economic value creation would be at risk: In the context of accelerating adoption of applications operating in unlicensed spectrum, it would be relevant to ask the question whether there is enough spectrum space to accommodate the expected growth. As noted by several analysts, congestion could result either from the density of devices used for a given application or when one set of devices of a given application interferes with a set of devices running another application. When Wi-Fi hotspot deployment accelerates and transmission bandwidth increases, so does the risk of congestion.

* authored by Dr. Raul Katz, Director of Business Strategy Research at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information, and President of Telecom Advisory Services, LLC

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