A new report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® estimates that unlicensed spectrum generates $95.8 billion per year in incremental sales value based on a comprehensive review of available device sales data. Unlicensed or “permissionless spectrum” – the limited electromagnetic radio spectrum that is not licensed by the FCC – represents a critical element of U.S. infrastructure. The research underscores the economic value of the FCC’s continued efforts to unlock additional unlicensed spectrum.
“This research highlights the enormous value of unlicensed spectrum and shows its key role in the technology industry and the U.S. economy more broadly,” said Brian Markwalter, VP of research and standards, CTA. “Unlicensed spectrum is the foundation for innovation in many devices and solutions we often don’t consider. Key fobs, baby monitors, medical devices, and countless other practical personal and business devices all rely on unlicensed spectrum.”
Applications of Unlicensed Spectrum
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a sizable portion of the overall market, but there are many other technologies and bands in use, such as radios, stud finders and buried cable detectors used in construction, heat treating systems used by factories and point-to-point data links used by enterprises.
Personal devices like connected health and fitness, electric vehicle toll tags, pet technology and home security all use unlicensed spectrum. It is also essential to enabling “smart” technologies, including smart appliances, lightbulbs, doorbells, TVs, phones and watches. Businesses rely on unlicensed spectrum for medical devices, security systems, inventory control systems and phone systems.
Unlicensed Spectrum Policy
Along with ongoing advocacy for more licensed spectrum, CTA continues to urge the FCC to unlock additional spectrum for unlicensed use, recognizing it provides a low barrier to entry necessary for innovators to experiment with new products that operate at low power levels and can share spectrum with other devices that support everyday life.
CTA has a long history of promoting the benefits of unlicensed spectrum, including having strongly supported the FCC’s April 2020 unanimous decision to permit unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band, which will empower innovations such as AR/VR, drones, connected vehicles, telehealth, precision agriculture and AI.
“Unlicensed spectrum helps us innovate and it underlies a big part of our economy. Think of how Wi-Fi is a force multiplier for broadband access,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA. “We urge the FCC to continue to free up additional spectrum for unlicensed use, so innovators, our economy and all Americans can benefit, without requiring licenses, regulatory fees or new obligations.”
This report comprehensively estimates the incremental sales value (ISV) of certain types of devices that use unlicensed spectrum. ISV represents a component of the direct contribution of unlicensed spectrum to American GDP. The report defines ISV as the portion of product sales that is attributable to inclusion of an unlicensed spectrum feature. ISV is computed for each product category by multiplying the total U.S. sales in that category times the unlicensed contribution in percentage terms.