America could super-charge 5G roll-out: Here’s how
If the COVID crisis has shown us anything, it is the importance of fast, reliable internet services to provide distance learning, e-commerce, teleconferencing, telehealth and other services. To that end, 5G is set to revolutionize communications technology for consumers and businesses.
Due to the huge benefits 5G will provide, and the opportunity to lead the pack, nations across the globe are rushing to prepare the infrastructure needed to support this cutting-edge technology. While America remains in the race, federal authorities could speed up the spread of 5G by making more mid-band spectrum available.
5G represents the 5th generation of cellular networks and offers a huge upgrade upon the existing 4G standard. Mobile data speeds are expected to become 100 times faster and vastly more efficient. These advances will unlock a wave of new technology. For example, self-driving cars require human-like reflexes to be safe—a development currently infeasible on comparatively slow 4G networks. For consumers and businesses alike, 5G will propel pioneering science into reality.
Unsurprisingly, the huge economic opportunity that 5G creates has unleashed global competition to dominate and influence the nascent market. By quickly scaling up 5G investments and rolling out 5G infrastructure, individual countries will have the ability to set global tech standards and give their domestic companies a regulatory home turf advantage in international markets.
However, a foreign standard as the international norm would not only handicap the ability of American businesses to compete, but it could also exacerbate the security risks associated with the proliferation of Chinese technology.
Given the significant upside and potential downside risks of the global 5G race, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made the development of America’s 5G infrastructure a key priority. Earlier this year, the FCC announced that it would auction 280 megahertz’ worth of spectrum (3.7 – 3.98 GHz) for 5G mobile use. Known as the C-Band auction, this process is expected to begin on Dec. 8.
But establishing a vibrant, domestic 5G industry is crucial at this early stage, and there is much more the FCC can do. According to a recent report prepared for the wireless industry group CTIA, the United States does not currently have any spectrum licenses in the lower mid-band 3.3-3.6 GHz range. In contrast, the report highlights that other 5G-focused countries have an average of 200 MHz of spectrum available in this range.
The mid-band range (3-7GHz) is important because it offers a convenient combination of both capacity and coverage, earning it the moniker of the ‘goldilocks’ range for 5G. Rather than waiting until it is too late, the FCC should proactively offer frequencies in this range to the market.
Auctioning more spectrum would allow a greater number of companies to participate in these early 5G stages, and thereby facilitating the roll-out of 5G technology across the country. For US businesses, that means opportunities for new applications and services; for workers that means jobs; and for consumers better services to meet the needs of the future.
Far from a corporate payday, making these frequencies available also provides a financial boon for taxpayers. Rather than giving these blocks of spectrum away for free, recent auctions for spectrum licenses have netted billions of dollars in sales for the public purse. Sitting tight on these frequencies may drive up the eventual revenue from FCC license sales, but it would be at the cost of innovation and consumer benefits in the interim.
5G is set to expand the frontier of technological capabilities, and business innovation and consumer benefits will closely follow. Taking proactive steps to ensure that America remains at the 5G forefront is a laudable goal for the FCC, but it is crucial that the FCC follows through with its objectives.
Simply put, offering more mid-band spectrum would expand opportunities for American companies to invest in rolling-out 5G technology to meet consumer demand.
Oliver McPherson-Smith and Steve Pociask write for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.