Going for the Wireless Gold

For two weeks every four years, Americans set aside our differences and pull together to root for Team USA. From Michael Phelps to Gabby Douglas, the London Olympics have been filled with some truly historic gold-medal moments. As they wind to a close, they also will be remembered for redefining the Olympic experience through wireless connectivity.

Here are a few connected highlights from the London 2012 games.

Being There--from Anywhere. About one-third of the Olympics' global audience was expected to watch at least some portion of the games on a tablet and/or mobile phone (and half via laptop), according to Smart Money. Much of this viewing will take place in the U.S., where nearly 60% of consumers now own smartphones and nearly 1 in 3 of us have tablets.

Deepening Ties Between Athletes and Fans. Social media has been front and center in these Olympics. In the first 24 hours of the London Games, more tweets mentioning the Olympics were sent than during all two weeks of the Beijing Olympics. And, both athletes and fans alike are participating. After winning gold in the all-around event, the U.S. women's gymnastics team received congratulations from President Obama, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber via Twitter. Many athletes, like gold medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte, proved to be avid Twitter users.

Mobile Enhances TV Experience. One of the great appeals of mobile connectivity is the opportunity to enjoy sports and other live events as they happen. Against a rising tide of real-time news and connectivity, there was speculation that NBC might face a significant challenge with its delayed televisions broadcasts. In the end, did digital cannibalize traditional media? Not at all. Even with mobile accounting for 45% of all viewing on NBCOlympics.com, the London Games had the highest television ratings of any summer Olympics.

A Glimpse of the Spectrum Crunch. With all the talking, texting and streaming, mobile activity surrounding these Olympics consumed a massive amount of wireless spectrum capacity. Mobile operators worldwide braced for an anticipated doubling of mobile usage. In fact, during the men's road cycling race, spectators along the 152-mile course were asked by the International Olympic Committee to take it easy on their mobile use--essentially urging folks to ration the limited resource. Why? Surging traffic overwhelmed local networks and caused commentators to have trouble receiving official timing updates.

While Great Britain's favorite in that event fell behind, the country is ahead in the spectrum race. British telecom regulator, Ofcom, recently announced plans for the auction of 250 MHz of spectrum in early 2013 to expand wireless connectivity. Meanwhile the United States has yet to take similar steps, despite grave warnings from the Federal Communications Commission and others that fast-rising mobile Internet use may exceed existing capacity and that we're already seeing the effects in cities nationwide. With nearly half of all American adults owning smartphones and tablet purchases beginning to outpace the sales of personal computers, the looming spectrum crunch in the U.S. is real and more spectrum is needed for commercial mobile broadband use if we are to continue to meet skyrocketing consumer demand for these services.

Wireless connectivity is a central part of our everyday lives--from how we work, to how we stay connected to friends and family, to how we experience large, communal and even global events. America excelled in the medal count in London. Now it's time to not just savor the memories of athletic achievement, but to keep in mind the lessons of how we experienced these games. The U.S. leads the world today in mobile connectivity--and that's one spot on the podium we all have a stake in defending.

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Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served in the Clinton Administration as a Director on the National Security Council.

Mobile Future is a 501(c)(4) coalition comprised of and supported by technology businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. For a full list of members and sponsors and to learn more about the coalition, go to www.mobilefuture.org.