Three Wireless Industry Predictions for 2024
2023 is certainly flying by, and it has been a year of growth, evolution and challenges in the wireless world. In April I took a five-day break from my smartphone, and I found it to be an amazing reset. I realized my phone distracts me in ways I didn’t even recognize, but I was also able to take a step back and once again be appreciative of the amazing capabilities we hold in the palms of our hands.
As an example, when I was stationed overseas with the Marines in the late 90’s, I was only able to talk with my family a few times a year. I didn’t have a cellphone and even if I did, international service was lacking or incredibly expensive. Honestly…it was lonely. My niece was recently overseas with the Army, and she could share experiences – video, pictures and good old-fashioned talking – every day on her cellphone. That kind of genuine connection is irreplaceable and truly valuable, and it is what wireless technology enables.
So, what will 2024 bring? It’s been nearly four years since the start of the pandemic that forever changed the way we use technology. The need for reliable connectivity has never been more important, and it’s demonstrated by the fact that U.S. wireless carriers supported more than 73 trillion MB of traffic in 2022 – the most ever and a 38% increase from 2021.
Being connected is critical for staying close to friends and family, but it also ensures access to education, drives work productivity, and enables the technology solutions of tomorrow. Our policy makers are aware of this, and consequently we’re seeing unprecedented federal funding opportunities to expand broadband services. With all this in mind, here are three predictions for the wireless industry in 2024.
1. Meeting the Need for Speed
Wireless customers demand high broadband speeds – and rightfully so. Customers use their devices for work, school, telehealth and as hotspots, so speed demands are increasingly important. In 2024, wireless carriers will mainly meet that need for speed by deploying mid-band spectrum.
Mid-band is the spectrum band (the radio wave frequency that delivers signals to our phones) that is considered the “sweet spot” of 5G because it provides fast speeds with broad coverage. Low-band spectrum provides broad coverage, while high-band spectrum provides fast speeds with a limited reach. Wireless carriers – including UScellular – have begun expanding their mid-band 5G networks sooner than expected thanks to early access to new spectrum, and in 2024, I predict that the mid-band expansion will really ramp up. That will provide a significantly better mobile experience, and even better home internet speeds via fixed wireless – using wireless technology to provide broadband to homes and businesses.
2. Blurred Lines
Speaking of fixed wireless, more consumers are turning to their wireless carrier for home internet, with some citing a better and faster experience and others citing the cost and ease of a single bill as reasons for switching. On the flip side, we’ve seen an increase in consumers turning to their cable provider for wireless service, and they cite the same reasons. Make it make sense, right?
As wireless carriers enhance their home internet offerings and more cable companies venture into wireless service, the lines between what is a “mobile internet company” and a “fixed internet company” will become increasingly blurred. In 2024, it will be interesting to follow the trends and see where customers lean – towards their wireless carrier or their cable provider – for both at-home and on-the-go connectivity.
The good news for consumers is that these blurred lines will likely create more choices and price points as companies compete by trying to differentiate and provide unique experiences. However, for mobile companies at least, this will likely depress investment as companies grapple with lower margins and how to properly invest for the future.
3. Eyes on Government Tech Policy
Speaking of the balance between lower prices and healthy investment, that’s also the goal of our government regulators. There are always a lot of eyes on the government, but in 2024 many of those eyes will be focused on the role the government plays in cultivating a healthy, productive wireless industry that delivers for Americans and positions the U.S. as a global technology leader. The spectrum and funding decisions made by our federal and state officials now and in 2024 will have real-life, day-to-day impacts on connectivity for millions of people.
Let’s start with funding decisions. In 2023, each state was allocated funding from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program to expand fixed internet access. State plans are currently in development, and as final decisions are made, it will be vital that funding be used on a mix of available technologies – wired and wireless – to truly realize the vision of Internet for All. I expect that a considerable amount of funding will go to fiber expansion, but fixed wireless can provide great speeds to the home in a fraction of the time and expense that it takes to lay fiber. Fixed wireless will also bring enhanced mobile internet coverage to an area, which is an important added benefit. I predict that state officials will choose to connect their citizens sooner rather than later, and will dedicate a portion of BEAD funding to fixed wireless.
Lastly, U.S. spectrum policy will be in the hot seat in 2024. Getting our spectrum policy right is important because spectrum is the backbone of wireless connectivity and is critical for national competitiveness. The wireless industry is ready to deliver on a world-leading experience, but that can only happen if our government releases more mid-band spectrum for carriers to use. Specifically, our ability to deliver connectivity in the hard-to-reach areas of rural America is dependent on this spectrum. The U.S. needs to be a global technology trailblazer, and 2024 will be a pivotal year to ensuring our future leadership.