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To understand today’s wireless market in the USA you need to grasp how it has developed over the last 40 years. Dario Betti interviews Rob Pegoraro, the telecom journalist and commentator on the Wireless Industry in North America. Robert followed much of the market development as the Washington Post personal-tech columnist from 1999 to 2011 and more recently as a contributor for USA Today, Fast Company, PCMag, Light Reading and others.

The USA was a late bloomer in the mobile markets. It has caught up since the 2010s, and it is now back as a leading world market. Here are some of the main themes covered in the interview:

1) The Regional Development. The series of allocations of wireless licenses reflected the regional break-up of the Bell System in the USA. Local competition but small players that struggled to capitalise on national champions. The focus on mergers and acquisitions limited the interest in service development for the early 2000s. Only in 2020 Sprint was acquired by T-Mobile concluding the consolidation phase.

2) The multiple technology formats. The choice of the regulator was to leave the free market to sort out the best technology. The different on network technology allowed operators to lock-in customers to their phone.

While Europe focussed on GSM the USA enjoyed a full Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), iDen, and GSM itself.

3) The Net Neutrality Debate is still a central debate that absorbed much of the telecom companies and regulators. In the United States the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate, has been an issue of contention since the 1990s.

In the early 2000s, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted a position that ISPs were “Title I” information services, and proposed net neutrality principles via the FCC Open Internet Order 2010, later challenged in court and confirmed by the FCC in 2015. By December 2017 the FCC under the Trump administration reversed the ruling. By July 2021, the new Biden administration provided a reversal again. Mobile operators and the investment in infrastructure are still very susceptible to the ruling.

4) Spectrum Allocation rules have set up a slower pace of development. Japan and eventually South Korea and China have taken the crown of leading markets for the launch of new “G”s technology.

Dario Betti