On the last day of SXSWi, I took part in Innovation Policy Day, a day-long event looking at the key public policy issues affecting technology. I joined other panelists to talk about something largely missing from the SXSW agenda: how will the devices, apps and services that make up Internet of Things (IoT) connect to the Internet? It seems as if the connectivity question is just assumed away by all of the developers – an assumption, I believe, that will eventually lead to bottlenecks on the road to IoT.
In particular, my fellow panelists and I had a chance to make the case for Wi-Fi. At Comcast, we think Wi-Fi has great potential – it’s an extension of our broadband platform and all of the applications we provide consumers. (Watch the video here.) That’s why Comcast is on the way to launching a million Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the U.S.
We are committed to ensuring that Wi-Fi remains a robust platform not just for our products but for everyone and everything. Cisco predicts that by 2017, Wi-Fi devices will power a majority of all Internet traffic. All over SXSW, I saw people with multiple devices that rely, in part, on Wi-Fi to function well. But this device explosion will eventually mean that getting on the Internet through your Wi-Fi connection will be like trying to drive in rush hour traffic on too narrow a road—frustrating and slow-moving. So we, and a number of other interested companies and organizations have been working with the FCC to secure more spectrum for Wi-Fi and we have helped form a group called WifiForward whose sole mission is to secure spectrum for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed services.
But we’re not just talking about more spectrum for Wi-Fi, we’re starting to see some action. Just last week, both the President and the Federal Communications Commission made a big push for unlicensed spectrum that could boost capacity on our Wi-Fi networks and fuel new services for consumers. In the White House's 2014 Economic Report the Obama Administration hailed the unlicensed airwaves as a key economic driver. In fact, WifiForward recently released an economic study finding that unlicensed spectrum generated $222 billion in value to the U.S economy in 2013, and $6.7 billion directly to U.S. GDP.
And later this month the FCC will consider an order that could add 100 MHz in the 5 GHz band to widespread Wi-Fi use – adding almost 60% more capacity than we have today for Wi-Fi. This additional spectrum will be good for existing uses of Wi-Fi, but also for tapping new technologies like 802.11ac, which could deliver gigabit Wi-Fi speeds. We’re encouraged by these developments and will continue to advocate for more airwaves for Wi-Fi and by making the most efficient and effective use of the airwaves we already have to bring real-world benefits to our consumers and to Wi-Fi users everywhere.