Opinion

5G Is Coming, and States Need to Be Ready

By Steve Pociask
July 5, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo over a century and a half ago. This quote perfectly captures the growing excitement and anticipation surrounding the coming of the fifth generation of wireless services, an entirely new wave of capabilities. Outfitted with remarkably faster speeds, greater capacity and reduced latency, this new level of mobile connectivity will usher in a technological revolution that disrupts industries across all sectors of the economy while also leading to the advent of new ones.

5G’s combination of near real-time speeds and responsiveness will make it a boon to nearly every part of the marketplace. Banking, healthcare, transportation and agriculture — these are just a small sample of industries that will receive a digital overhaul at the hands of 5G. And before we know it, the emerging technologies and ideas of today — such as autonomous vehicles, remote doctor visits and smart cities — will be commonplace.

This next level of connectivity will also bring waves of increased economic competitiveness. An analysis released last fall by the American Consumer Institute confirms 5G could generate $533 billion in U.S. gross domestic product and an additional $1.2 trillion in consumer benefits. Separate reports cited in the Lost Economy study indicate similar competitive advantages, including $1.8 trillion in savings over seven years, while self-driving cars and connected devices for health applications could produce annual economic benefits of $447 billion and $305 billion, respectively.

5G is no longer just an idea; it is a certainty. Standards and technology are underway, trials have been done, and rollouts are expected to happen before the end of the year. If the U.S. wants to remain ahead of the global technology curve, we must ensure the efficient and successful deployment of 5G.

One way to do this is laying the necessary infrastructure: shoe box-sized devices known as “small cells” that can be attached to street lamps, bridges, buildings and more. These sensors are what will be the heart of a 5G network and will accept, analyze, and transmit wireless data and information at lightning-fast speeds. And they will need to be deployed in every community across the United States – 50 states, 3,000 counties and 20,000 incorporated places.

In many areas, however, outdated policies remain on the books that impede buildout and implement roadblocks. These include exorbitant fees to attach the small cells, drawn out permitting applications and deadlines and other bureaucratic hurdles. This is where local policymakers and city officials can come in and do their part by championing practical policies that cut through the red tape and ensure timely and efficient buildout. And once successful, these local communities and their constituents will reap the benefits of state-of-the-art broadband infrastructure and connectivity, in addition to more jobs and economic output.

While local policy hurdles remain, there has been significant progress in recent year at the federal level by the Federal Communications Commission to encourage 5G buildout. This includes a new order introduced in March, championed by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, that seeks to ease needless obstacles resulting from drawn-out regulatory review processes.

In addition, the FCC this month announced a new Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking focused on ensuring adequate amounts of spectrum (invisible airwaves) are made available to ensure 5G broadband innovation. In particular, this is a nod to freeing up what’s known as mid-band spectrum, a crucial component to the 5G equation that ensures its signals can still travel in near real-time speeds over longer distances – all while juggling incredible amounts of data.

It’s no surprise that other nations across the globe are already racing to capitalize and take the lead on the coming 5G revolution. The United States is currently third behind China and South Korea in efforts to mobilize a successful 5G network. This reality is troubling, not only from a competitive advantage but also considering our history as the global leader in creating and deploying innovative technologies and services.

America stands on the brink of 5G. With the right collaboration and policy, we’ll transition into this new era of connectivity that will revolutionize everything. Other nations are already racing to make 5G broadband services a reality, and the United States cannot afford to fall behind.

Steve Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational research organization.

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