(This entry was written in 2013. It will be updated in 2016.)
Mobile wireless connectivity is having a profound effect on society in both developed and developing countries. The penetration of smart phones and tablets has led to consistent doubling of mobile data usage on an annual basis. This puts tremendous pressure on telecommunication networks and the government bodies that regulate the radio frequency (RF) spectrum, which is a finite resource.
New technologies are completely transforming how we communicate, conduct business, learn, form relationships, navigate, and entertain ourselves. At the same time, government agencies increasingly rely on radio spectrum for their critical missions. Spectrum is necessary for all sorts of communications, from weather service and avaition to television broadcasting and mobile voice and data plans to national defense and homeland security. In most developed countries, the spectrum is regulated by the government and then sold to operators (such as cell phone companies or television stations). The amount we can use is limited by our current technology.
This confluence of wireless technology developments and societal needs present numerous challenges and opportunities for making the most effective use of the radio spectrum. We now need to have a policy conversation about how to make the most effective use of the precious radio spectrum, and to close the digital access divide for underserved (rural, low-income, developing areas) populations.
Check out the Notre Dame Wireless Institute, headed by Reilly Fellow J. Nicholas Laneman.
Here are some resources to help you understand the way the spectrum works as well as some of the difficult ethical and policy questions we need to ask:
What do we mean by wireless communications and radio spectrum and what are the issues?
How the Radio Spectrum Works (How Stuff Works)
The National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Radio Frequencies (National Academies)
Confused about the spectrum debate? These two commercials will help (Washington Post)
Current and future policy:
A World Government for the Internet? Not So Fast (Discovery News)
Putting More Spectrum on the Market (US News & World Report)
Spectrum Allocation Chart