A Mandate for Unity on Our 5G Future


With the next generation of wireless networks on the horizon and the global race to trail blaze this next wireless frontier well underway, the Obama Administration is taking decisive, necessary steps to ensure the U.S. remains atop the technology leaderboard. Just this week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler addressed the National Press Club on this this very topic. Rest assured, the world was listening.

When South Korea hosts the Winter Olympic Games in 2018, it will be carrying a torch for more than just international sportsmanship. The country plans to showcase the world’s first trial 5G network. Japan aims to follow suit when it hosts the 2020 games, with Europe and China hot on their heels. Make no mistake, however. After leading the world in 4G deployment, the U.S. is far from ready to cede the lead on 5G.

Chairman Wheeler’s plans for our 5G future includes opening up high band spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use for next-generation networks. This spectrum will connect the entire country to 5G – from urban to rural – and will help propel economic opportunities for all.

Today, more than 99 percent of Americans have access to high-speed wireless Internet, and 92% of Americans can choose from at least three 4G LTE wireless data providers. These positive outcomes for consumers and American innovation are the direct result of more than two decades of wise public policy and the massive private capital investment and innovation these smart government approaches helped encourage.

Realizing 5G’s full potential will fuel a quantum leap in connectivity: Speeds 100 times faster than today, split-second reaction times for applications like connected cars and robotic surgery, dramatic reductions in energy-per-bit consumption to support billions of connected devices, as well as much more resilient networks.

As this next network revolution prepares to ripple through our economy and our lives, smart wireless policy remains essential. A recent Mobile Future paper by former Obama technology advisor Jim Kohlenberger outlines a comprehensive strategy to mobilize America. This includes:

  • Lowering barriers for mobile innovation and investment. World-leading wireless networks require regular and profound levels of private sector investment—$32 billion last year in the U.S. alone. Job #1 must be to promote an environment that encourages investment and innovation.
  • Tackling our nation’s toughest challenges.  Removing barriers to wireless innovation can accelerate breakthroughs aimed at major national objectives–from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improving car safety, to revolutionizing health care.
  • Speeding access to more spectrum.It can take as long as seven years to free up a single spectrum band. Policymakers must develop a long-term strategy, and it must include accessing under-utilized government-held spectrum.
  • Building the infrastructure to support robust networks. Along with clearing more spectrum for consumer use, federal policymakers, as well as states and municipalities, must help streamline efforts to build out infrastructure to support wide scale 5G deployment.
  • Flooding the talent pipeline. There are roughly half a million U.S. job openings that have not been filled in information technology fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. We need to create more opportunities for American workers to receive the training and education they need to participate in a 5G economy—particularly in communities that are underrepresented in tech.

As Chairman Wheeler so aptly expressed, 5G leadership is a race we cannot afford to lose. Two decades of constructive, bipartisan policy, and an unerring commitment to the concept of permissionless innovation have thus far placed us in a strong position. The FCC is poised to demonstrate with its actions that U.S. policy will continue unequivocally encouraging world-leading levels of investment from U.S. broadband providers.

Bold thinking, and a shared sense of purpose across the public and private sectors, has for many years now given our nation an exceptional early lead in wireless. With a new generation of wireless networks just a few years away, American consumers and our nation’s economy require a unifying mandate: Strong leadership today – coupled with smart, progressive, and light-touch policy-making – to ensure U.S. superiority in tomorrow’s 5G world.

Jonathan Spalter is chair of Mobile Future. He has a long track record building innovative technology, mobile, Internet, and research companies in the U.S, Asia/Pacific, and Europe, both in the public and private sectors.

Morning Consult