What did you do on your summer vacation? Major broadband network operators spent the season making plans to deploy superfast 5G wireless broadband.
5G is the communications technology that offers broadband speeds of up to a hundred times faster than 4G, lower “latency” (basically, faster response time), and other benefits that will power the Internet of Things, connected cars, smart cities, and other innovations. It’s a big deal and it will transform both how and where you use broadband internet.
Verizon plans to launch 5G service this year in Indianapolis, Houston, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Not to be outdone, AT&T is planning service for Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Waco. As you probably noted, those lists overlap; there’s competition right from the start in 5G. And there’s more to come in 2019, including service from Sprint in some cities and Las Vegas and Nashville for AT&T. Music videos are going to be even more spectacular very soon.
Cities and network operators together are bringing innovation to the 5G marketplace
It’s not just cities; network operators are working to bring technological and product innovation to the 5G marketplace. Sprint seeks to offer the first 5G smartphone; Verizon wants to bundle video services with its 5G service (unsurprising because high-quality video services will be much easier with 5G); and AT&T’s Project AirGig promises to deliver 5G in a unique way – over the power grid.
The deployment of 5G involves a cycle in which network operators make investments if conditions are right, including the wide availability of spectrum. Government therefore has a big role to play here, too. Fortunately, government has also been busy in this area over the summer. The FCC recently started a rulemaking to put up for auction several spectrum bands above 24GHz to help 5G deployment. Last week, the FCC also voted in favor of a new initiative led by Commissioner Brendan Carr to reduce costs for 5G deployment nationwide, including in rural areas. As he recently said, “Success means every community getting a fair shot at 5G. To achieve this success, we need to update our rules to match this revolutionary new technology.” The order will streamline regulatory approvals, ensure that local governments make approval decisions quickly without imposing excessive costs on the network, and save about $2 billion in fees that can be used to advance deployments.
Two bills in the Senate would help get more spectrum to more people more quickly, including holding more spectrum auctions that will also reduce the federal deficit. The point is, with spectrum, the more the better. And if the previous four generations of wireless technology are anything to plan by, Americans’ appetite for data consumption is voracious. That’s why deployments need to keep pace with – or be ahead of – consumer demand.
All this means much more than better music videos. The economic impact of technology can be hard to estimate, but if anything, it’s probably underestimated. Investment in the sector may have been even higher than the tens of billions per year previously reported. And investment – the deployments, based on the availability of spectrum and consumer demand – drives economic growth, jobs, and innovation. New devices will be introduced to exploit the features of 5G – and these are the tip of the iceberg on top of the millions of 5G-enabled devices that you won’t see inside all types of machines in the Internet of Things.
There is a global race between American and China for 5G dominance
And, in a global race, who will get to 5G first: America or China? China is planning $400 billion in 5G-related investment. A report from the international consulting firm Deloitte notes that “countries that adopt 5G first are expected to experience disproportionate gains in macroeconomic impact compared to those that lag[.]” 5G matters to our country’s economic competitiveness.
We rely on the private sector rather than government for these levels of investment, and that gives us greater flexibility to adapt to market conditions. But it also requires getting the policies and standards right to ensure early and broad deployment of 5G.
So, there’s a lot going on, but it’s only the beginning. Perhaps the 5G devices you want won’t be on the shelves this holiday season, but millions of people are going to get a real shot at having 5G service by the end of the year. And that will lead, once again, to a new broadband revolution.
(Photo of Bruce Mehlman for a 2017 event.)
Bruce Mehlman is a founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance and previously served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy.
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