Billions will tune in to watch world-class athletes compete at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, but something else will also be on display – the importance of wireless connectivity in shaping the experience of a global audience.
The numbers involved at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London were nothing short of astonishing – there were roughly 14,500 athletes from 200 countries at 700 venues with 4 billion viewers worldwide. The first 24 hours of the London Games generated more tweets (9.66 million) than the entire Beijing Olympics in 2008. Mobile connectivity allowed for viewers to watch the London Olympics from anywhere – whether on a tablet or a mobile phone. And mobile usage accounted for 45% of streaming the games on NBCOlympics.com.
However, this increased use of wireless technology caused problems. During the men’s cycling race, spectators were actually asked by Olympic officials to refrain from using their mobile devices unless it was urgent. The constant use of smart devices to update social media sites crashed the network, preventing commenters from receiving official updates and information from the GPS system traveling with the cyclists.
Given the time difference between Sochi and the U.S., Americans are going to want to watch the Olympics online on their own time. In order for coverage of the Sochi Olympics to be a successful operation for consumers using their smart devices, mobile networks must continue to provide faster and more efficient communication.
The London Olympics technological mishap also provides a glimpse into what many Americans could soon face at home, if some changes do not take place in the U.S. wireless industry.
With more than 60% of American adults possessing smartphones and the growth of tablets expected to exceed purchases of personal computers in 2015, wireless carriers will need more spectrum to meet the steeply rising consumer demand for broadband data.
Next year, the Federal Communications Commission will conduct a spectrum incentive auction to free up spectrum for our mobile use. But still unresolved is whether the FCC will permit all wireless carriers to compete for this spectrum without restrictions in the auction. Huge, complex events like the Olympics demonstrate the heightened consumer demand for all things mobile, and the need for the FCC to ensure that it does not impose onerous, restrictive regulations that hamper spectrum-based services.
The FCC should be encouraged to provide a level playing field that permits all wireless carriers an opportunity to competitive bid for the spectrum they need. This will allow the current 300 million wireless broadband consumers to get the mobile experience they want.
Millions of American computer, tablet and smartphone users will be counting on their mobile broadband experience to the upcoming Olympic Games and other future momentous events. Making more spectrum available to all providers is a key to that achieving that experience for all consumers. If the FCC makes the right policy decision, the U.S. will capture the gold in wireless connectivity.
Steve Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.