The Age of Connected Everything: Why Supercharged Wi-Fi Is Critical to the Future

Woman with multiple wi-fi connected devices.

In 2019, the average U.S. household had 10 connected devices – and that number is projected to hit 50 in 2020. And household and personal devices are only the beginning of a coming boom. Today, connected devices are making an impact across many other sectors, with the potential to improve health, increase efficiency, and save energy and resources. But while technology has enabled breathtaking innovations, the bandwidth needed to seamlessly connect our devices is running on fumes and can no longer keep up with demand. Let’s take a look at what’s going on.

Wi-Fi in the Home

The newest smart devices are capable of everything from simplifying shopping and entertainment to saving energy and reminding us to be healthier. But getting five, much less 50, devices to work effectively and dependably on the same home network means our Wi-Fi connections need to be faster and have more capacity. Think about it: running your smart speakers, wearables, phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, gaming consoles, and appliances requires loads of data and seamless connectivity, making it necessary for Wi-Fi that’s powerful and consistent enough to reach every device in your home.

Hospitals and Life-Saving Medical Technology

The internet of things (IoT) is pushing healthcare beyond the sharing of medical records and the automatic filling of prescriptions. Imagine the safety and efficiency of a hospital system where metrics like medications, blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels are tracked wirelessly in real-time, and where the movements of patients, visitors, and staff can be easily monitored. Meanwhile, the advent of telemedicine – with patients receiving diagnoses or therapy remotely – brings the possibility of reaching many more patients. Unfortunately, hospitals are already at the edge of what the current Wi-Fi infrastructure can support. Hospitals also need faster, more powerful connections to continue providing innovative, life-saving solutions.

Enhanced Travel for People and Products

New technologies and AI have revolutionized the transportation industry. In the shipping sector, total automation is the eventual goal, with vessels, containers, cranes, and operators all sharing information through a wireless connection to make docking, inventory, and distribution as efficient as possible. In airports, airline companies like Delta are already experimenting with RFID tags for checked baggage, allowing suitcases to be tracked at all times, and enhancing the consumer experience. The speed and capacity required to power this cohesive technology is extremely high, and it’s what keeps crucial pieces of the U.S. economy – like the infrastructure in our ports and transit systems – running and growing. Without change, the current Wi-Fi environment will not sustain it.

Smart Farms and Ranches

Connected technology is also taking the farming sector by storm, helping the United States develop sustainable and robust food systems. Smart technology will soon allow for everything from automatic watering and crop monitoring to self-driving tractors. On ranches, owners can track their livestock via GPS trackers, and video auctions mean they no longer have to drive livestock to a central location — their buyers can log in from just about anywhere. This type of “smart farming” requires connectivity everywhere on the property, however, making it key that reliable internet connections are available across rural America.

Connected Community Institutions

Visit a city library on any given day and you’ll find adults using public Wi-Fi connections to search for new jobs and high school students completing homework online. In many American communities, anchor institutions like public schools, libraries, and community centers provide critical services for vulnerable populations. The access to the internet that these institutions provide, and particularly access to Wi-Fi hotspots, plays a crucial role in connecting people to opportunity and closing the digital divide. In order to ensure access to the digital economy for all Americans, though, these institutions need capacity for high-speed connectivity – the kind that can support more people, devices, and use.

Preparing for Future Wi-Fi Demands

Government and private companies are working hard to expand wired broadband infrastructure across the country but wired infrastructure alone will not be enough. Most Americans today experience the internet through Wi-Fi, and many of the technologies that power the U.S. economy rely on Wi-Fi connections. For more people to get online, using more devices, and for more innovative technologies to work at the same time, the U.S. needs to allocate more spectrum for Wi-Fi use.

What is spectrum, you ask?

Spectrum, in this context, is the range of electromagnetic radio frequencies that can be used to transmit data. The FCC regulates available spectrum, reserving some of it for public usage and auctioning some off for other uses. There’s a finite amount of spectrum, however, so it’s important that it’s doled out in ways that make sense. The FCC is considering an important move to dedicate a big chunk of spectrum for “unlicensed” uses like Wi-Fi, making it possible for innovators to access more bandwidth, without cost.

This move is critical, because in order to keep up with the escalating demand that is powering the economy, more spectrum will need to be made available – and soon.

The good news is that every American has a role to play in making this future a reality. By signing Beyond’s Supercharged Wi-Fi petition, you tell the FCC that it’s important to take action on spectrum now, and help ensure that connected technologies can continue to power everything from life-saving medical devices to streaming our favorite shows.

Learn more about the need for—and progress being made around—supercharged Wi-Fi and spectrum here