By Meredith Attwell Baker
April 5, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
The United States has leaped from third a year ago to tied for No. 1 with China in the global 5G race, according to new research. 5G is the next generation of wireless, which will unlock innovation, create jobs and foster the industries of the future.
This should come as no surprise. Thanks to significant private investment, the first large-scale commercial 5G deployments anywhere in the world are happening now, in communities across America. By the end of the year, the United States will have twice as many 5G deployments as the next leading nation.
Twelve months ago, with no deployments, no spectrum auctions and out-of-date infrastructure rules, America ranked third globally in 5G readiness.
What changed? The Federal Communications Commission, the White House and Congress moved quickly to remove barriers to deployment, modernize siting rules, and unleash the power of free market competition. Thanks to their leadership, the wireless industry can invest and build more quickly. And that is exactly what is happening.
Today, the competition within the United States is even overshadowing the global 5G race as America’s operators push each other to be first to bring 5G services and devices to more and more communities.
This is great news, but we must not be complacent. Our global rivals are no less committed to winning. China in particular has significant advantages, including wireless networks that are three times denser than our own — which will enable the rapid deployment of widespread 5G networks.
To win the race to 5G we need to follow through with the winning policies of the past year, and further reduce impediments to private investment. Now is the wrong time to be distracted by second-guessing successful reforms, or radically reshaping the wireless industry.
We need to harness our competitive spirit, and that starts with freeing up more spectrum — the invisible airwaves that carry wireless signals — for next-generation wireless networks. 5G networks will require hundreds of megahertz more spectrum to meet consumer demand and unlock new applications from remote healthcare to connected cars.
Fortunately, the administration is moving quickly to address this need with the development of a national spectrum strategy designed to give “industry more freedom to operate,” and “reach the full potential that 5G offers.” It’s a critical opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new generation of American entrepreneurs, investment and technology leadership.
To make the most of that opportunity, the strategy should prioritize putting more spectrum in the hands of America’s wireless industry by establishing a five-year schedule of new spectrum auctions. That free market-oriented approach was key to winning the race to 4G. Taking these same steps for 5G will unleash a spectrum stimulus that will add $391 billion to our economy, create 1.8 million new jobs, and help America lead in 5G.
We are already executing on part of that spectrum plan right now. Thanks to a strong commitment to lead in 5G, the FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai have held two spectrum auctions in less than a year with plans for another later this year. Accelerating how quickly U.S. companies can access these key spectrum bands has proven critical to helping America leapfrog the competition in the 5G race.
We need to replicate that playbook for what is called mid-band spectrum. Mid-band is critical to 5G because it offers high capacity for data-intensive applications as well as the ability to transmit signals over longer distances. By next year, other countries will have released four-times more mid-band spectrum than the United States. We can catch up if we commit today, and move forward freeing up the spectrum we need to win.
And that’s important, because 5G isn’t just the next generation of wireless. From artificial intelligence to the internet of things, augmented and virtual reality, remote healthcare, and more, the industries of the future will be built on 5G. With continued faith in competitive markets and a recommitment to the spectrum policies that made America the world’s most dynamic economy, we will win the global 5G race.
Meredith Attwell Baker is president and CEO of CTIA, the leading organization representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, and a former commissioner of the FCC.
Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.