telecommunications is probably larger relative to that of IT than these figures suggest, given that much of the GDI from IT hardware (particularly semiconductors) could apply to any of several industries (computing, telecommunications, media, and electronics, for example). If one assumes IT to be the sum of computers (calculating), computers (wholesale), computers (retail), and software and services, the total GDI for IT is $440 billion, compared to the total for telecommunications (communications hardware plus communications services) of $335 billion, making telecommunications’ contribution to GDI just under 80 percent of IT’s contribution to GDI
The telecommunications-related industries are also a major employer—communications services employed 1 million U.S. workers in 2002, representing 1.1 percent of the total private workforce, and communications equipment companies employed nearly 250,000 people.5 Moreover, telecommunications is a high-tech sector, with many highly skilled employees.
Telecommunications is a growth business. Although markedly reduced investment in some parts of the sector (following the bubble years of the late 1990s) may have given an impression of low growth in the long run, a longer-term view taking into account the need for humans and machines to communicate suggests that telecommunications will continue to grow apace, as evidenced by the ongoing expansion of wireless and broadband access services throughout the world.Telecommunications is also a key enabler of productivity across the U.S. economy and society.
Not only is telecommunications an industry in itself, but it also benefits nearly every other industry. In the 1990s the U.S. GDP grew rapidly, and the U.S. economy was among the strongest in the world. It is widely believed that the Internet economy played a significant role in this success.
Today, however, new wireless applications, low-cost manufacturing innovations, and handset design are some of the areas in which the Asian countries are outinvesting the United States in RD and are seeing resulting bottom-line impacts to their economies. For the United States to compete in the global marketplace—across industries—it needs the productivity that comes from enhancements in telecommunications. If the telecommunications infrastructure in the United States were to fall significantly behind that of the rest of the world, the global competitiveness of all other U.S. industries would be affected. Conversely, the growth in U.S. productivity has been based in part on a telecommunications infrastructure that is the most advanced in the world.
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