20:15 PM

How We Can Ensure America’s Wireless Future

Right now, the United States' leadership in wireless connectivity is at risk. China – our primary competitor – provides about 70% more wireless capacity per person. That gap will grow in the coming years as China builds more base stations and makes more spectrum available for commercial use. 

The implications of this are significant because connectivity – and particularly, wireless connectivity – provides the plumbing that powers tomorrow’s technology and innovation developments.

Recently, I spoke about this at the Technology Policy Institute (TPI) Forum. My remarks focused on how we can ensure that America’s leadership in wireless continues through investments in spectrum, infrastructure and innovation.

The Situation 

Global competition isn’t about one company or one provider. It’s about how our country is thinking about, collaborating and investing in connectivity – and leveraging the impact it has on innovation and our economy. We can break it down into three important issues: 

  • Connectivity – and particularly mobile connectivity – should be a national priority. It matters to our people, to our economy and to our future.
  • We’re falling behind China, our primary competitor when it comes to technology and innovation.
  • In order remain competitive, we must prioritize and invest in spectrum, infrastructure and innovation.

Looking Back

We have the benefit of history to help us understand why mobile connectivity matters – and how we can regain our lead. All we have to do is look back at the early 2010s when Europe was slow to invest in the evolution from 3G to LTE, and subsequently, 5G.

During that same time in the U.S., our investment in infrastructure and adoption of LTE eclipsed Europe, and we saw innovative application providers emerge because our connectivity infrastructure – and our economy – helped them develop and scale their solutions. This kickstarted a huge amount of innovation, benefitting our economy. For example, we built LTE for a better mobile video experience, but that same network enabled innovative apps like Uber, Zoom and Instagram.

So then, let’s follow that same playbook with 5G. Problem solved…roll credits, right? Not quite.

Cut to today, and we’re a country that’s not investing as much in our 5G wireless infrastructure. But let’s be clear: It’s a huge, costly investment. LTE was built on mobile video, but there’s no similar slam-dunk 5G use case that wireless companies can use to drive more revenue, which – in turn – would fund more investment in infrastructure. So wireless companies are spending less on infrastructure.

You might be wondering, what’s the issue here? Simply put, as companies in the U.S. decrease capital investment, we fall behind in the infrastructure race with China.

China currently invests more and has a denser wireless grid than we do. And by 2027, China plans to deploy nearly double the amount of licensed mid-band spectrum than we will have in the U.S. That will significantly increase the level of wireless capacity in China, which enhances the quality of wireless service and the types of innovation that will inevitably result.

The Solution

Wireless matters. Connectivity matters. And to keep up with China, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It comes down to three priorities for our country – more spectrum, more wireless infrastructure investment, and a more aligned approach to innovation.

First, we need to release more mid-band spectrum for commercial use, and we need to be in synch with the rest of the world on the types of spectrum we deploy.

Second, we must fund investment in wireless infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas. Our country has invested heavily in connectivity, but most of that investment will be in fiber. We must also invest in wireless to ensure that we have the infrastructure to support emerging technology like autonomous cars, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and drones.

Finally, we need to find new ways to align and support innovation, bringing together public, private and academic stakeholders to collaborate and innovate.

My intention is not to cause alarm, but rather, create an opportunity to unite. I’m calling upon thought leaders in business, academics and policymakers who develop our nation’s technology policies to join forces – and get us to the finish line.  

After all, UScellular’s mission is to connect people to what matters most. And this matters a whole lot to all of us.

Sept. 15, 2023


Laurent "LT" Therivel
President and CEO of UScellular