News > Press Releases

Unlicensed Spectrum Generates $62 Billion Annually for U.S. Economy, According to New CEA Study

Arlington, VA – June 16, 2014 – 
Unlicensed spectrum – the radio spectrum that allows entrepreneurs to harness a communications medium in order to connect people and devices wirelessly – generates $62 billion a year for the U.S. economy, according to a new report from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®. The report, Unlicensed Spectrum and the American Economy , examines the economic impact of unlicensed spectrum based on a device’s incremental retail sale value, a metric that takes into account only the fraction of the sales price attributable to unlicensed spectrum.
               “Unlicensed spectrum is essential to keeping us connected and advancing innovation and tech entrepreneurship in the 21st century,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA. “Everyday devices that run on unlicensed spectrum are all around us – garage door openers, home security systems, baby monitors, all the products we have come to rely on that utilize Wi-Fi, and more. Unlicensed spectrum is the fuel that powers innovation in our increasingly digitized, interconnected and untethered world.”
               CEA’s new report estimates that growth of devices relying on unlicensed spectrum is extremely strong. CE devices that rely most heavily on unlicensed spectrum, which include Bluetooth and radio frequency identification-enabled devices, have a cumulative annual growth rate of roughly 30 percent from 2011-2016. Consumer demand for products like these is now, in turn, driving the need for even more unlicensed spectrum. 

               Unlike licensed spectrum, with its significant regulatory oversight and high costs to obtain and build a usable service, unlicensed spectrum offers accessible spectrum to entrepreneurs with fewer resources, which facilitates innovation. Users of unlicensed spectrum do not have to buy the spectrum, and are more easily able to experiment and deploy products with minimal regulatory oversight.
               As reported in CEA’s recent 16th Annual Household CE Ownership and Market Potential Study, ownership of spectrum-enabled devices such as smartphones and tablet computers is at an all-time high. Smartphones are now in two-thirds (64 percent) of U.S. households and tablets are in almost half of U.S. homes (45 percent), both increasing their household penetration rates by six percentage points in just the last year.
               “We're seeing an explosion of connected devices that rely almost exclusively on unlicensed spectrum – the Internet of Things – proof of the skyrocketing value of unlicensed spectrum,” said Shapiro. “As we continue to use more smart, connected devices, we need enough unlicensed spectrum for them to communicate with their surroundings and one other. With this tool, innovators can harness the power of the network to give devices more utility than they could ever have in isolation.”
               The report draws upon sales data from the entire ecosystem of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to estimate their impact on the U.S. economy. AM radio broadcasting hardware, automatic vehicle identification systems, industrial, scientific, medical (ISM) devices and many more –  beyond the ubiquitous Wi-Fi routers – are accounted for in the report.
               Need help imagining life without unlicensed spectrum? Click here for a look at A Day Without Unlicensed Spectrum, an animated video produced by CEA.
About the Consumer Technology Assocation

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the technology trade association representing the $208 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry. More than 2,000 companies enjoy the benefits of CEA membership, including legislative advocacy, market research, technical training and education, industry promotion, standards development and the fostering of business and strategic relationships. CEA also owns and produces the International CES – The Global Stage for Innovation. All profits from CES are reinvested into CEA’s industry services. Find CEA online at, and through social media.