Powerful forces of private-sector competition and an onslaught of technical advances are propelling the United States into a telecommunications renaissance era. In every sector-wireless, wireline, local and long distance, video and Internet-more services are being delivered at lower prices and higher bandwidth.
As militaries, governments and businesses continue to struggle with the obstacles posed by bandwidth limitations, scientists in industry and research laboratories are improving compression technologies to allow high-quality images and text to be sent to the desktop-or palmtop-with phenomenal speed. The proposition is simple: Until scientists design a way to make the communications pipelines larger, engineers must make the volume of data smaller.
Telecommunication technologies allow people to reach out and touch someone in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. No longer restricted to voice-only transmissions, consumers are using the metal and fiber veins that run throughout the world to send data, images and even multimedia presentations worldwide. Companies that develop the technology and services that facilitate these connections are watching opportunities blossom. More importantly, they are fighting hard to stay ahead of a game in which ignoring a chance to provide in-demand services means handing your competitor the advantage.
A new type of optical networking software will enable bandwidths of light to be redistributed in response to fluctuating data traffic. The technology allows individual streams of photons to be moved when and where they are needed, ensuring greater network reliability and near real-time communication.
As the United States and the European Union begin to implement policies designed to open their markets to foreign competition, issues such as wireless spectrum allocation, telephone interconnections and Internet access continue to vex negotiations. While both parties understand the importance of free trade and cooperation, these differences may impede bilateral trade liberalization and deregulation.
The Internet protocol revolution is reaching satellite video communications with a new system that permits transmitting tens of thousands of channels over a single orbital transponder. Users can leapfrog existing satellite video limitations with two-way virtual private networks that can carry streaming video without a hitch.
After considerable interagency debate, the U.S. government has approved ultrawideband radio technology for commercial use. Ultrawideband devices operate across a wide spectrum range instead of a specific frequency. This allows for more efficient spectrum use at lower power levels and presents a possible solution for bandwidth-starved wireless providers. Other applications include ground-penetrating radar, imaging, surveillance and medical systems. However, issues such as possible interference with navigation and commercial aviation systems must be resolved before the technology gains wider acceptance.
Although industry shoulders the ultimate responsibility for the health and well-being of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, the federal government is working to ensure the continued operation of systems that touch almost every aspect of life-from emergency services to economic stability. Key among the government's concerns are the security and reliability of the systems on which national security and emergency preparedness depend.
Manufacturers are poised to release new equipment that will permit universal roaming for cellular telephone and mobile devices. Recent processor and software developments are leading to products that can operate across different global communications protocols.
Emergency responders now can count on priority cellular access in a pinch as the U.S. government establishes a wireless version of its Government Emergency Telecommunications Service. Known as the Wireless Priority System, or WPS, the new cellular system promises connectivity in a shirt pocket for authorized users ranging from the president down to a local fire chief.