The Wireless Race the United States Must Win

Countries around the world are vying for leadership in the next-generation of wireless, 5G. New research ranks China narrowly ahead of South Korea and the United States as the most 5G-ready nation.

We should all take note because continuing to leading the world in wireless matters, and this global race has true economic consequence for all Americans. We know this because the U.S. won the race to 4G, which drove a nearly $100 billion increase to our economy, spurred new jobs, and created new industries, like the app economy.

On the other side of the coin, we see what happened when wireless leadership was lost in Europe and Japan, which previously led the world in wireless. At their height, they were respectively home to the world’s leading handset, mobile internet service and telecom hardware and software industries.

The European Commission now concedes that, “we had 80 percent of the market in 2008 and because we were not ready for 4G mass deployment, the EU industry lost almost its entire market share for mobile phones.” Despite efforts to reverse those negative trends for 5G, the study reveals European nations still significantly trail in the 5G race, clear evidence of the long-lasting consequences of losing wireless leadership.

The stakes are also frankly higher for 5G. The wireless industry spent the last decade connecting everyone. 5G will now connect everything.
5G will unlock powerful new advances in industries such as health care and energy, and foster entirely new industries of tomorrow from driverless cars to drone commerce and virtual reality. If the United States leads, 5G promises to generate $500 billion in new economic growth and 3 million new jobs, according to Accenture. Few industries can promise a brighter future.

While we narrowly trail China and South Korea right now, I’m confident we can leapfrog those nations and lead the world in 5G. My confidence stems first and foremost from the vibrant and competitive wireless market in the United States. The research finds the U.S. wireless industry a global leader in terms of our commercial 5G efforts, and rightfully so. With active technology trials and announcements from all national providers to rapidly deploy 5G services as early as this year, the industry commitment is clear.

And the window to leverage that commercial commitment is now. We need decisive action from policymakers in 2018 to allocate the spectrum needed to fuel tomorrow’s mobile data demand and to modernize our nation’s infrastructure siting rules for our new 5G networks.
Here again I’m optimistic because of the strong leadership we have in the Administration, on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission. The key proposals have already been introduced and initial steps taken.

The new report highlights the need for a long-term spectrum plan to provide the certainty companies need to invest in 5G services. Encouragingly, the FCC has recently announced plans to hold a new spectrum auction later this year. And a growing bipartisan consensus has emerged in support of the AIRWAVES Act that provides a clear blueprint for future spectrum auctions over the next six years.

Within that long-term spectrum plan, it is critical that the United States address the deficit in mid-band spectrum availability for commercial providers. These airwaves, a critical enabler of 5G networks, offer critical capacity and coverage for next-generation wireless networks.

But the research found the United States ranked sixth of 10 studied countries in allocating this critical internationally harmonized band. The FCC is poised to help address this gap with action on the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands and the administration has identified the 3.4 GHz band as a future wireless band.

We are similarly situated with respect to the infrastructure siting reforms needed to help jumpstart investment. The FCC recently modernized federal reviews of new wireless infrastructure deployments for small cells, the modern antennas that will enable 5G networks.

These common sense steps promise to reduce deployment costs by roughly one-third, and 15 states have likewise enacted legislation to promote greater investment.

We need the FCC, Congress and state policymakers to act this year to update their guidance for localities to ensure timely deployments and establish cost-based fees that support new 5G networks.

We should all take the report’s findings as a wake-up call to work collaboratively and quickly because the 5G race is a race the United States can, and needs to, win. The key now is policymakers executing on these proposals in an expedited fashion and providers following through on their aggressive deployment schedules. Let’s get to work to ensure we win the 5G race and preserve all the corresponding benefits of leading the world in wireless.


Meredith Attwell Baker is the president and CEO of CTIA.

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