How important is telecommunications as an industry, and how important is telecommunications research to the overall health of that industry? Underlying these questions are several others. How important is telecommunications to the U.S. economy and society? To what extent are U.S. consumers likely to benefit directly from telecommunications research in terms of new products and services that enhance their lives or improve their effectiveness or productivity? How much scope for innovation is there left in telecommunications, or has telecommunications matured to the point that it is merely a commodity service or technology?
The core findings of this study—which are supported throughout this report—are that the telecommunications industry remains of crucial importance to the United States as a society, that a strong telecommunications research capability continues to be essential to the health and competitiveness of this U.S. industry internationally, and that the health of this industry strongly affects the U.S. economy in many ways.
Telecommunications research has yielded major benefits such as the Internet, radio frequency wireless communications, optical networks, and voice over Internet Protocol
opportunities for future research include enhanced Internet architectures, more trustworthy networks, and adaptive and cognitive wireless networks.
Nevertheless, research support has fallen off in recent years. Prior to the restructuring of the telecommunications industry in 1984, the Bell System’s research labs played a dominant role in long-term, fundamental telecommunications research for the United States. Post-restructuring, industrial support for such research has declined, become more short-term in scope, and become less stable. A diverse array of competing telecommunications firms— telephone, cable, Internet, and wireless—emerged, leaving most research to equipment vendors, which increasingly focused on short-term goals. Telecommunications research is increasingly being done at universities rather than by industry, and outside rather than inside the United States. In addition, the diversity of players in today’s telecommunications industry makes it difficult to design and deploy major, end-to-end innovations.