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David Pendered

Have an app for that? Make certain Atlanta has enough air waves to serve mobile wireless users, group says

By David Pendered

Everyone in metro Atlanta who has eyes on the new iPhone 5 has grand expectations that it will improve their lives, or at least be a lot of fun.

The only problem is that, eventually, there won’t be enough capacity to transmit all that data through the air waves. Everyone already knows what happens when the mobile spectrum is overloaded – slow Internet service and bumped calls.

Braille Touch

Mario Romero was a post doctoral fellow at Georgia Tech when he helped develop an app that allows for eyes-free data entry on a mobile device. Credit: tech.slash.org

The issue is critical to a surprisingly diverse group of people. These groups include those who use mobile devices, and those who write the apps – applications – that make money for inventors or are given away to serve a some purpose.

The world of users is expanding exponentially, ranging from those who store and use Groupon coupons on their smart phones, to those who arrange meet-ups on Foursquare, to those who buy a burger from a food truck that uses the Square credit card reader or look up directions on Mapquest.

Among inventors, just a glance toward Georgia Tech shows an abundance of apps. They range from Anystop, which provides real-time estimates of when the Tech Trolley will arrive, to BrailleTouch, a prototype app developed by Tech researchers to help blind people and others who want an eyes-free way to communicate with their mobile device.

Capacity isn’t yet a widespread problem in Atlanta.

Mobile Future

Mobile Future is one of the organizations working to expand consumer access to air waves to handle the growing use of mobile wireless devices. Credit: mobilefuture.org

But the region’s heavy use of mobile devices has prompted an industry group to reach out to consumers here to make sure they’re abreast of the need for Washington to make sure that capacity doesn’t become a problem.

Mobilefuture.org is among the organizations working on the issue and urges consumers to contact their congressional represenatives and “ask them to support policies that encourage continued investment and innovation to build next generation networks and increase the supply of mobile spectrum.”

The issue for these groups is less the physical structures needed to support mobile technology than it is the spectrum itself. The current campaign is for the federal government to grant a share of spectrum to wireless subscribers than the current allotment of 16 percent. The remainder is used by the government and broadcasters.

Congress is already at work.

One topic the House is exploring is how to implement President Obama’s call for federal agencies to give up their unused portions of the spectrum. Obama signed an executive order directing agencies to increase their efficiency in using assigned spectrum, in order for some portion of it to be reassigned to the open market. The proposal has Republican support:

  • “As the single largest spectrum user, the federal government could save taxpayers money and more frequencies available to meet American consumers’ growing demand for mobile broadband services, while improving its own capacities,” is a statement released by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Or), who chairs the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Another topic is job creation in a market segment called the “apps marketplace.”

The goal is to foster the development of apps and thereby promote the creation of jobs in a segment expected to continue growing at a breathtaking speed, according to the backgrounder on last week’s meeting of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade:

  • “From the middle of 2008 to 2010, mobile app growth exploded with 8.2 billion downloads and $5.2 billion in revenue in 2010. U.S. consumers downloaded 25 billion apps creating $20 billion in revenue in 2011. On December 24 and December 25, 2011, consumers downloaded a staggering 392 million apps overall. As smartphone and tablet ownership continue to rapidly expand, current projections indicate the app economy will grow to between $76 billion and $100 billion in the next three years with app downloads growing to between 180 billion and 200 billion globally.”

For more information go to mobilefuture.org


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. AdamsBrautigam September 24, 2012 10:47 am

    As a mobile app developer this is a problem that I see coming, the need to increase air waves based on the number of people requiring space from their mobile devices. 
    Larry Addles

  2. ScottNAtlanta September 24, 2012 3:07 pm

    This is a disappointing piece.  As for the “looming crisis” you would have done better not to ask a group that is funded by industry.  I bet they dont mention that AT&T and Verizon are sitting on vast amounts of spectrum with no plans in implementing them.  They hold them only so others cant use them…that doesnt sound like a shortage.  It sounds like a serious lack of regulation.  How about “you buy it, you use it, or you lose it”.  Better yet, further explore the spectrum sharing technology that the major carriers are loathe to explore.  The spectrum is a public owned commodity…the carriers dont “own” it.  That they should cut vast swaths out of use and sit on them is almost as shameful as you making no mention of it in this fluff piece.Report

    1. david pendered September 24, 2012 4:05 pm

       @ScottNAtlanta Hello,
      As you point out, there are many touch points in this topic and I appreciate your bringing up the good ones you’ve mentioned. The administration and Congress certainly have a lot of perspectives, and realities, to consider as they contemplate the future of this industry. Thank you for your good additions to the conversation.


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