Opinion

How the Federal Government Can Help Make a 5G Reality

Over the upcoming months, the Federal Communications Commission is set to rule on a number of proposals that will have a huge impact on whether the United States maintains its position as a leading force in technology innovation.

At issue are proposals under consideration by the FCC over the future of fifth-generation wireless technology in the United States, with its promise of radically changing industries by enabling new and emerging uses that have the potential to spur another major economic growth spurt, as we saw with 4G and the emergence of the app-based economy. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb may not have been possible without the capabilities 4G provided.

5G will one day be powerful enough to enable smart factories and real-time virtual reality, yet practical enough to provide wired home broadband.

If the United States succeeds in being one of the first countries to roll out 5G, it will help safeguard our current leadership position in the telecommunications and internet industry and assist other industries in growing. In fact, 5G has the potential to provide 2.2 million jobs and nearly a half trillion-dollar boost to the U.S. economy.

With 5G, first-to-market advantage matters. As a recent report from Deloitte pointed out, “[b]eing first to LTE afforded the United States macroeconomic benefits as it became a test bed for innovative mobile, social, and streaming applications. Being first to 5G has even greater and sustained benefits to our national economy given the network effects.”

One reason why staking out a leadership position in 5G is so important is that it is much more than just the next generation of wireless technologies.

4G, the technology enabled by most smartphones, was all about speed. But although it will be a hundred times faster than 4G, 5G is about intelligence. Its greater speed and responsiveness will expand beyond computers and phones to encompass the cloud and a whole new universe of devices attached to the network.

But for 5G to meet its promise, wireless companies need action from the FCC to help make their aggressive roll out strategies possible.

First, the FCC must approve its current proposed rule that would reallocate mid-band spectrum for new commercial terrestrial use, such as 5G. Mid-band spectrum is like “Goldilocks” spectrum as it is just right. It offers greater capacity and speed than low-band spectrum and larger coverage areas than high-band spectrum.

This is important because 5G will require more spectrum than 4G. If you think of spectrum as highway and data as cars, more cars on the highway require more lanes to handle the traffic, thereby avoiding bottlenecks.

By approving use of mid-band spectrum, the FCC will allow more devices to connect to the internet and the data to move faster for more users. This promises to open the flood gates of development of a new range of mobile broadband experiences – from virtual and augmented reality gaming to 3D mobile video and more.

Next, the federal government must realize that 5G will be a game changer and encourage federal agencies to facilitate its roll out. For example, as companies roll out wearable devices that monitor various medical conditions, the Food and Drug Administration should move quickly to facilitate the benefits to consumers. Last week’s Presidential Memorandum recognized the importance of establishing a national spectrum strategy: the crucial step will be to transform this strategy into expeditious action to enable 5G.

5G offers unlimited opportunities. If the federal government can quickly put in place the right policies, it will unleash the power of 5G. And that will benefit companies and consumers alike.

Jayne Stancavage is executive director of the communications policy, government and policy group at Intel.

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