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Welcoming Remarks of Assistant Secretary Victory at the Wireless Innovations: New Technologies and Evolving Policies Roundtable

Roundtable on "Wireless Innovations: New Technologies and Evolving Policies"

Welcoming Remarks

by Assistant Secretary Nancy J. Victory
U.S. Department of Commerce

May 13, 2003

I'd like to welcome everyone to the Department of Commerce and to our Roundtable on "Wireless Innovations: New Technologies and Evolving Policies."

Welcome to our exploration of the latest advances in the wonderful world of wireless technologies. The impact of wireless on how we work, play and communicate is profound and pervasive. In little more than a decade, cell phones have liberated us from the tethered telephony network in ways we could never have anticipated. In that brief space of time, mobile phones have mushroomed from a fad to a fixture, with the number of wireless customers now nearly equaling the number of wireline customers. And a 3G-enabled future holds the promise of the cell phone morphing from a voice device into a personal "third screen" platform for video, entertainment and information services.

Yesterday, we saw a showcase of new unlicensed wireless technologies that can propel us forward with equally profound and pervasive consequences. They can provide ubiquitous access to the Internet. They can enable smart homes and offices. They can provide us personal protection and help defend our Homeland. And their potential is bounded only by creativity in their application and wisdom in affording spectrum homes for their deployment.

Today, we have gathered the "best and the brightest" minds to explore the appropriate framework for achieving the full potential of unlicensed wireless products and services. We are guided in this effort by three overarching principles:

First, spectrum management requires a coordinated U.S. spectrum team in which the FCC, NTIA and State Department work closely to achieve the very best for our country and our citizens. The cooperation and collaboration in putting on this event reflects our commitment to a unified U.S. spectrum team.

Second, we must be prepared to unshackle ourselves from the spectrum scarcity notions of the past to weigh how and when new technologies can and should open the door to a new notion of managing spectrum access for the future. The views and ideas springing forth at this event will be critical inputs in that process in the days ahead.

Last, but not least, we must look creatively for paths that do not produce winners and losers, but rather, outcomes that maximize benefits and minimize detriments for all affected parties. We must be as nimble as the technologies that we are facilitating in fashioning spectrum management policies that evolve beyond a binary - you lose or you win - to a new spectrum approach that employs new technological tools to accommodate multiple uses in compatible ways.

For Secretary Evans, the Department of Commerce and my team at NTIA, this is a truly exciting and truly important undertaking. Today's discussions are an integral part of our mission: to spur innovation in the private sector, to pave the way for new markets to develop and new products to emerge, and to help secure our nation's economic security.

Economic and national security are both top priorities for this Administration, and advances in wireless technology will help us achieve both goals. Despite recent downturns in the telecom industry, wireless technologies continue to spur economic growth and job creation. Today, over 50% of Americans have wireless phones (that's over 140 million U.S. customers). Worldwide, mobile phone sales totaled 423.4 million units last year, up 6% over 2001. And the cell phone industry employs more than 200,000 people.

"Wi-Fi," which is one of the unlicensed wireless technologies being discussed today, was unknown just a few years ago. Today, it is deployed all over the world, with over 18 million pieces of Wi-Fi equipment sold in 2002. Forecasts are strong for its continued growth.

As we all know, our world has changed significantly since September 11, 2001, and new wireless technologies are also playing a vital role in our national security efforts. Our Nation is indebted to the outstanding service of our men and women in Iraq and their successful mission. Wireless devices are also critical to our homeland defense - to first responders, to the control of our air and ground transportation systems, and to the success and safety of our military.

The potential for unlicensed wireless technologies to help us achieve economic and national security will be an underlying theme of today's roundtable. On our first panel, we will begin by looking at the growth of and future potential for unlicensed wireless networks, such as WiFi, Ultrawideband, and 802.16 technologies (commonly known as "WiderFi" because of its higher capacity). Our participants will tell us what these technologies are about, what's in the marketplace today, what we might see in the future, and what the business cases are. We have representatives from both small, emerging, and large established companies who will share with us their visions of the marketplace.

On our second panel, we will explore the issues of unlicensed wireless security and privacy. As a general matter, lessons from the wired environment can help instruct us on how we should approach security in the wireless environment. Our participants today will discuss the appropriate roles for both government and industry in protecting wireless communications and will offer solutions for both products and practices.

Wireless technologies also pose unique privacy issues regarding information about where a user is located. This is an issue not only for today's cell phones, but also for the unlicensed products of tomorrow. And, of course, all of these issues arise at a time when we are fighting a war against terrorism and when policymakers are trying to balance the needs of law enforcement with the right to privacy. I anticipate that this will be a really interesting session.

In the afternoon, our third panel will focus on spectrum policy and regulatory issues. I know that NTIA and the FCC have been working hard to make more spectrum available for unlicensed wireless and to make use of the spectrum more efficient. Wi-Fi, Ultrawideband, and other technologies operate within a different paradigm than licensed services. We are used to the model where a service provider obtains exclusive use of radiofrequency spectrum and offers service on channels within that area. Unlicensed wireless technologies, on the other hand, share spectrum in a sort of "commons" where none of the technologies have exclusive use of the spectrum.

Some of our panelists may point to the success of Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies as a reason to expand on this new paradigm for other new services. Others may have a less sanguine view about sharing spectrum. And these spectrum issues will prompt everyone to ask what government's role should be in light of the many new or developing unlicensed technologies.

Then there are other interesting regulatory issues, many of which are just appearing on the horizon with respect to unlicensed networks. The widespread deployment of broadband services, by which today we mean mostly DSL or cable service, is of great importance to this Administration. The unlicensed technologies being discussed today have the capability of providing broadband connections without the use of wires. Does this mean that they will be alternatives for people to get broadband connections? If so, will these devices change the debate over broadband?

Moreover, these unlicensed technologies may provide services that are currently provided through cell phones or other licensed wireless services. If these unlicensed services become more popular and become substitutes for licensed services, the question will inevitably arise as to whether or not they should also be subject to existing regulatory requirements. We expect to have a great debate about all of these issues today.

Finally, on our fourth panel, we will shift our focus to the international arena and discuss United States international policy in this area. Other countries do not necessarily take the same regulatory approach to unlicensed networks that we do, and may or may not make spectrum available for wireless network technologies. This affects market opportunities and the potential for the development of unlicensed wireless technologies in foreign markets. Spectrum availability for unlicensed technologies is also an issue for the World Radio Conference, which takes place next month. This last panel, which was organized by the Department of State's Office of International Communications and Information Policy, headed by Ambassador David Gross, will explore those issues.

Today's panels promise to cover exciting and novel topics, and will help us answer some of the many questions related to the potential for unlicensed wireless technologies in meeting our economic and national security needs. I cannot stress enough the remarkable team effort that has occurred among Commerce, the FCC, and the State Department in putting on this two-day event. Our agencies have worked hand-in-hand on spectrum issues over the last few years. Together, we have achieved breakthrough successes in ultrawideband, Third Generation mobile services, and in fashioning an agreement that could double the amount of spectrum for WiFi. Today's roundtable, I am sure, will further advance discussions and answer many questions in the area of unlicensed wireless technologies.

I appreciate the participation of our panelists, and thank you all for attending today's and yesterday's events.