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Dinner talk and modern infrastructure

The following guest column appeared in the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal on March 18, 2011.

By Leon Beauchman, Director of Joint Venture's Wireless Communications Initiative

There has been a lot of speculation about the conversation at President Barack Obama’s recent dinner engagement with Silicon Valley’s technology elite. The CEO-only guest list featured the likes of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

It would be nice to know that at some point during breaking bread, the president mentioned his plans to promote the deployment of a 21st-century wireless infrastructure. President Obama’s State of the Union address made clear his intent when he stated, “Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.”

The president might have asked his dinner companions, “How can I promote a 21st-century infrastructure unless Silicon Valley becomes that ‘region on a hill,’ a place where all things wireless become real? A place where there are no dropped calls, and wireless downloads happen at broadband speeds, all the time.” After all, Silicon Valley invented the products and applications that created this vision, and it is Silicon Valley that needs to lead.

A 2008 report issued by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, “How We Can Improve Cell Phone Coverage,” called attention to the need for upgrading our wireless infrastructure through collaboration between wireless carriers, cities, counties, business and community organizations. Since then, the strategic importance of our wireless infrastructure has become even more evident with the advent of the iPhone, iPad and other smart devices.

“Mobile cellular has been the most rapidly adopted technology in history,” according to ITU Telecom World. There are more than 5.2 billion wireless phones worldwide — a sevenfold increase since 2000.

The future could be a feast for several of the president’s dinner companions. Smart devices will be the driving force behind the evolution in the wireless market. Silicon Valley companies dominate a key component of these 21st-century machines — the operating system. Google’s Android is now the leading smart phone platform with some 31 percent of the market, according to comScore. Apple’s iOS is in third position with approximately 25 percent.

We don’t know if the president had seen recent market research indicating that more than 65 million Americans own smart phones as of the quarter ending January 2011. The research also predicted that the leading applications for mobile devices are social networking, Internet searches and mobile e-mail. All of this growth has put an incredible strain on the existing wireless infrastructure, and future expansion is dependent on deploying additional network resources.

So will our region take its rightful place at the head of the technology table for what will be a wireless market banquet? Joint Venture’s Wireless Communications Initiative (jointventure.org) today brings together wireless carriers, service providers, local cities and county representatives.

The goal is to promote wireless infrastructure investment by identifying opportunities to update local ordinances and procedures, while addressing community concerns. In addition, carriers and service providers are sharing their future plans with local jurisdictions, and thereby building better relations. But we need others to join us, especially those companies and communities that stand to benefit most from the industry’s growth and new jobs.

Our competitive advantage in relation to countries in Asia and Europe will be directly related to Americans’ ability to access and share information. Let’s hope the guests at the Obama dinner gave some thought to this as they checked their iPhones, BlackBerrys and Droids over dessert.


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