Kaboom! Big Bang Disruptions and Mobile Broadband

It might sound like the title of your favorite TV comedy, but it's actually a term cooked up by Larry Downes and Paul Nunes, two well-respected analysts and tech writers. Its meaning, as they explained in Forbes:

Big Bang Disruptions are products and services that enter the market better and cheaper than those they replace.

And because today's well-informed customers know a good thing when they see one, they migrate en masse, leaving incumbents with little time to respond, let alone counter-punch, before supply chains collapse.

Big Bang Disruptions occur when innovative technologies explode onto the free market.

A prime example of a Big Bang Disruption (BBD) is the smartphone, which has upended the markets for video cameras, digital cameras, watches and calendars. Another is Waze, a crowd-sourcing traffic and navigation app that helps users navigate real-time changes in driving conditions.

Gadgets and apps with billion-dollar valuations are not the only products that qualify as Big Bang Disruptions. Small businesses have the potential to become BBDs as well. Take the Taiwanese coffee chain Let's Café, for example, which encourages customers to take a photo on their phone, text it to the barista, and a 3D printer will "print" that image on the foam of their latte.

Let's Café delivers a simple, but unique gimmick that sets the coffee chain apart from competitors. This alone qualifies the innovative consumer outreach tactic as a BBD. The chain is creating original branding while still maintaining a relatively low cost product.

While printing customer mugs on mugs of coffee may not seem like a game changer, Let's Café's service reveals how technology can help turn businesses big and small into disruptors. It also highlights how, as an instrumental platform for innovation, mobile broadband may be the greatest Big Bang Disruption of all.

What got me thinking about this, however, wasn't just the emergence of BBDs, but the possibility they might be swallowed by a black hole. At an event held by Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy, Larry Downes identified a potential pitfall for mobile broadband: specifically, the critical need for more airwaves dedicated to wireless use.

"In regard to spectrum," Downes told the crowd at Pepperdine's event, "we're victims of our own success." The potential of smartphones is virtually unlimited, but to fully realize their maximum utility and potential requires spectrum to be capable of carrying 30 times more data than older phones -- and the wireless spectrum to transmit that data is becoming more congested. To get a sense of how much demand for data has grown, all you have to do is look around and see how many people are glued to their wireless devices - it's easy to see why the federal government must unleash more spectrum for wireless consumer use.

Spectrum scarcity presents the greatest and most immediate threat to derailing the growth of mobile broadband, with the potential to have disastrous effects not just on consumers, but on the economy as a whole. This heightens the need for the FCC to ensure the right rules are in place for their upcoming spectrum incentive auctions, auctions that will allow wireless providers to bid on more spectrum for consumer use.

If the FCC can adopt rules that allow all providers to bid equally against each other for the spectrum they need to provide consumers their wireless service, the FCC will have done its part to encourage and stimulate the growth of a truly vibrant market ripe for continued BBDs. This will help foster an environment ripe for more opportunity, greater innovation and more Let's Café's in every industry everywhere.

Mike Montgomery is the Executive Director, CALinnovates, a coalition advocating on behalf of California's consumers of technology and innovation.