America Must Own the 5G Future

Having worked in the trenches for 25 years on countless initiatives to foster U.S. entrepreneurship and global business growth, I have witnessed the transformative power of technology for both individual entrepreneurs, entire industries and nations. The opportunity presented by the fifth generation of wireless technology is the next powerful wave that will super-charge innovation, entrepreneurship and small business growth. And, not surprisingly, China has targeted this opportunity as well.

News reports and television ads correctly portray 5G’s faster speeds and low latency. These attributes will dramatically cut costs, boost productivity for small businesses and open extraordinary opportunities to reach and engage with customers. But 5G is much more than that. 5G is about maintaining our innovative superiority, economic advantage and national security edge over China. It’s a race where we need to fully and quickly encourage private-sector investment and deployment.

The Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Pai and “Commissioner 5G” Brendan Carr, has pressed the accelerator on regulatory modernization and freeing up the needed spectrum to deploy 5G. The commission has advanced a variety of proposals and orders to enable 5G’s roll out, including its latest action on the C-band spectrum. This latest proposal by Chairman Pai is both bold and fair, and he will have the opportunity to review his sound approach on March 10 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Among other details, Chairman John Kennedy (R-La.) wants to know who’s supporting and opposing the C-band plan. For the record, America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses are fully behind Chairman Pai.

Back to China. The United States needs to build the wireless communications infrastructure to make deploying 5G possible. So far, in this regard, China seems to be leading. Since 2015, China has outspent the United States by roughly $24 billion in 5G infrastructure. China has constructed about 12 times more 5G base stations than the United States. China is also reported to have given Huawei, its largest telecommunications firm, as much as $75 billion in financial assistance. This level of support has taken Huawei to the top of global communications and given them quite the advantage in the 5G marketplace. Huawei has signed contracts with at least 30 countries on 5G infrastructure projects, including most recently with the United Kingdom.

China’s aggressive efforts both domestically in terms of being first-to-deploy, and secondly through the dominance of Huawei, present a significant economic challenge as well as national security risks. The world’s next generation networks would be built by China, and Chinese companies would own the patents for building future 5G networks. Even if the United States avoided Chinese equipment domestically, we would be reliant on a global communications network built by companies like Huawei.

It’s not too late for the United States to fully punch the policy accelerator and finish the race ahead. Whoever wins the race to 5G will own the economy of the future. This is not an exaggeration. 5G is not only essential to economic growth and competitiveness, the technological innovations and new business models that emerge from the 5G platform will be the ones used by and exported to the rest of the world. We want to maintain this current advantage.

Full implementation of 5G worldwide will create 22 million jobs and generate over $13 trillion in global economic output. On the domestic front, it will drive $275 billion in private sector investment and create 3 million new jobs and add $500 billion to the economy. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of every 100 Americans will benefit from a new 5G-generated job.

State and local leaders who get the idea that pro-investment policies attract investment dollars and business, are also advancing legislation and rules to streamline outdated processes to expedite 5G deployment. However, there are always those states and localities (and it always seems to be the same ones) that are working to erect costly barriers to deployment. Unfortunately, citizens and small businesses in these areas will be left behind and put at a competitive disadvantage.

Every industry — including health care, manufacturing, transportation, energy, retail and more — will be positively impacted by 5G. For the entrepreneurs and small businesses that dominate these industries, that means they can continue to do what they do best – create quality jobs and drive innovation within each of these sectors. New technologies could generate $305 billion in health care cost savings alone. In addition, 5G will add tremendous efficiencies to the energy grid, which would add $1.8 trillion to the U.S. economy. Across every sector, the cost savings and new innovations will add significant value to our economy. And most excitingly, 5G will spawn new industries and business models that do not currently exist.

These are opportunities that our economy, businesses and communities cannot afford to let pass. Yes, China may be suffering now from economic sluggishness, the aftermath of a trade skirmish with the United States and effects of the coronavirus, but Beijing can still continue to outspend and outplay the United States in the race to 5G. The stakes are indeed high, and it’s time policymakers and elected officials at all levels of government start acting in the best interests of their citizenry, including small businesses.


Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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