State of the Union-State of Innovation

A new rallying cry for federal investment in innovation rang across the nation Tuesday night, this time including IT and wireless infrastructure. Upgraded high-speed data access for more homes, businesses and schools is a novel promise. However, delivering such connectivity to the masses may not follow any politician’s timetable.

President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address said 98 percent of the country in the next five years may see next generation high-speed wireless coverage. A pragmatist might say that is a lofty objective. Wireless providers are now rolling out their respective 4G networks with varying performance and availability. For the moment, this is a nascent service for high-end users willing to pay extra.

“It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age,” President Obama said during his speech.

High-speed communications will grow more robust at a pace the industry is willing to support. Profits in the wireless market are increasingly driven by data usage. Does this mean high-speed wireless will become a commodity rather than a premium service? Will federal funds subsidize wireless companies that deliver such upgrades to the public? These details were not addressed in the speech and frankly are subject to the actions of wireless providers.

Federal funding ten years ago increased in such areas as sensor technology, threat detection and other forms of security innovation. While we have made some gains in these areas, those investments did not result in a wonder technology that cured all security ills.

Further, the introduction of high-definition television broadcasts in the United States did not adhere to the original vision laid out by federal authorities. Rather than each broadcaster produce a single HD channel that takes full advantage of available bandwidth, some divided their signals into multiple enhanced channels. This was an improvement over prior standards, but does not exploit the full potential of the bandwidth.

The future described by President Obama where firefighters can read building layouts on wireless devices is reminiscent of Jack Bauer on the former the 24 television series. While plausible, the cost of delivering such service may prove more daunting than expected and play out differently in private sector hands.


About Joao-Pierre S. Ruth
New York tech correspondent for Xconomy, tech writer for Investor Uprising, and aspiring urban fantasy writer. I also make brownies and crème brulee.

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