Wireless modernization proposal could inspire over a billion in innovation

Wireless modernization proposal could inspire over a billion in innovation
© Greg Nash

Next Thursday, the federal government has a unique opportunity to jumpstart wireless investment and move the U.S. one step closer to winning the global race to 5G wireless.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote on a proposal to modernize certain federal reviews for small cells — modern wireless antennas the size of small pizza boxes — and make other needed wireless infrastructure reforms.


This important decision will speed up the buildout of 5G networks, and could unleash up to $1.6 billion to spur next-generation wireless networks across America. The remarkable part is that not one penny will come from taxpayers.


Instead, this $1.6 billion — according to research from Accenture — will come from cost-savings that flow from the agency’s action.

We’re using more wireless data every day. And tomorrow’s 5G networks will connect millions of devices, enable the internet of things, and power smart cities.

This means we need more wireless capacity. To get there, we need smaller antennas located much closer together. Wireless carriers have plans to install hundreds of thousands of small cells across the country, but many rules and regulations for infrastructure are decades old, put in place when 200-foot tall cell towers were the norm.

These outdated rules mean more barriers and higher charges. And these often duplicative reviews mean needless delays to install small cells and other modern wireless infrastructure.

For instance, a small cell can often take just an hour to install but a year or more to receive approval. And one provider alone estimated that environmental and historical review compliance costs exceeded $23 million in the last two years — a figure that will only increase as more small cells are deployed.

Eliminating these reviews translates into time and cost savings that will create jobs and boost investment. Accelerating 5G deployment timelines will add billions to the U.S. economy.

And that’s important because while the U.S. leads the world in 4G, countries around the world including South Korea and China are moving aggressively to seize 5G leadership. In fact, just last week, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri called it “a neck-and-neck race between the U.S. and China to see who will be the first to deploy.”

That’s why common sense infrastructure reforms — like the FCC’s proposal — are critical and timely.

But we can’t stop here. When FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced the agency’s proposal last week, he rightly said, “For next-gen networks, we need next-gen regulations.” That includes additional infrastructure reforms at the federal, state, and local levels.

While policymakers still have other steps to take, the FCC vote next week couldn’t come at a better time.

The wireless industry is doing its part. Providers have been trialing 5G technologies in communities across the U.S. and are building out their networks to bring 5G to consumers — in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Sacramento, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, and more — as early as this year. In fact, it’s more likely than not that wireless technicians and engineers are installing a small cell in a town near you at this moment.

With next Thursday’s vote, the FCC is doubling down on its commitment to do its part. Together, we can ensure America continues to lead the world in wireless.

Meredith Attwell Baker is the president and CEO of CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless communications industry.