The hot race for 5G will change the world we know now

You don’t have to be a geek to know that 5G wireless technology is the next big thing. And like most big things, the stakes are high. As the country’s leading wireless companies prepare to invest millions of dollars in marketing, infrastructure and acquisitions, the race is on to win the hearts of American consumers and the approval of federal policymakers.

The latest wave of TV commercials heralding the many benefits of 5G technology is no coincidence. These ads are a timely reminder that the next generation of cellular service is here for some and coming to a neighborhood near you. The images convey a world of boundless connectivity and seamless communications just around the corner. Each of America’s top wireless providers is laying claim to the lead position in building and bringing 5G to the market very, very soon.{mosads}

If you somehow missed all the hype, simply stated, 5G stands for the “fifth generation” of wireless telecommunications services. In cellular chronology, 1G, or the first generation of wireless, was all about voice — and boy did we embrace the mobile phones in our cars and in our hands — however clunky they were by today’s standards. 3G laid the foundation for today’s smartphones and 4G built the app economy with even more speed and data capabilities.

As wireless technology has evolved, each generation has delivered faster speed and more capacity for applications. But the promises of 5G surpass them all. If you listen to those closest to the technology, it is hard not to get excited.

senior Verizon executive claims that 5G will historically “transform industries across every sector of the economy … redefining work, elevating living standards, and having a profound and sustained impact on our global economic growth.”  

They say 5G technology will deliver life-changing technologies through next-generation networks and that Verizon’s network will allow up to 100 times better throughput, 10 times longer battery life and 1,000 times larger data volumes, all while being 10times more reliable.

Verizon asserts that it is the only company with the engineering experience, fiber assets, wireless millimeter wave spectrum and partnerships to scale the transfer of massive amounts of data at unimaginable speeds. In fact, Verizon is tying its future to being first-to-market with the deployment of 5G in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento beginning October 1, 2018.

Not so fast, says AT&T. CEO Randall Stephenson takes issue with the Verizon claim, pointing out, “they are going to be first with a nonstandard service,” but “we will be first with a standards-based 5G service, and it will be mobile.”

“5G will be more than just a better network,” said AT&T President of Technology & Operation Melissa Arnoldi. “We believe 5G will ultimately create a world of new economic opportunity, greater mobility, and smarter connectivity for individuals, businesses and society as a whole.”

AT&T plans to roll out 5G in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco by the end of the year. It plans to bring 5G service to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose by early 2019. 

Not to be outdone, both T-Mobile and Sprint have made 5G deployment one of the centerpieces of a proposed merger. The CEOs of both companies contend that a merged T-Mobile–Sprint would be better able to develop a 5G network that would compete with Verizon and AT&T and offer greater benefits to consumers.

“Dumb and Dumber are in a meaningless race to be first. Their so-called 5G isn’t mobile, and it’s not even on a smartphone. It’s a puck?! You gotta be pucking kidding me!” said John Legere, president and CEO at T-Mobile.  “While the Duopoly focus on bragging rights, we focus on customers. T-Mobile has massively bigger plans for a truly transformative 5G experience on your smartphone nationwide. We’re playing the long game … the only game that matters.”

“At T-Mobile, our vision of a 5G future keeps the customer front and center, just like the way we built the nation’s fastest LTE network,” said the company’s chief technology officer.

The proposed merger of T-Mobile–Sprint is now before the FCC and the Department of Justice for approval. Not insignificantly, both agencies have a point of view on 5G.

While he does not speak for the Justice Department, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross carries a lot of weight in the Administration. Secretary Ross has stated that advancing a 5G mobile broadband network is a priority for the Trump Administration.

Ross said, “Whoever pursues it, whoever does it, we’re very much in support of 5G. We need it. We need it for defense purposes, we need it for commercial purposes.” Ross’s comments come amidst growing concern that the U.S. may be behind China, the European Union, Japan and South Korea, which have made 5G technology a national priority.

As the agency directly responsible for spectrum management, the FCC’s views on 5G are perhaps most important. Recently, the agency approved more spectrum for new commercial and terrestrial use. 5G networks will require a combination of low-band, mid-band and high-band spectrum.

In a recent speech, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr noted, “You need to make more spectrum available to win the race, and right now we’ve made more spectrum available than any other country in the world, in fact, four gigahertz more than second-place China. The other piece, though, is infrastructure, and you’re starting to see the FCC making some real significant strides. Here’s the challenge: The deployments of 3G and 4G networks were marked by these 200-foot, 300-foot large towers. 5G is actually going to be thousands of small antennas that can be attached on utility poles. You don’t need the 200-foot towers,” he continued.

“From an infrastructure perspective, our federal rules had assumed that every new antenna is a 200-foot tower, so we’ve been in the process of updating that to make it economical to see those small cells deployed whether it’s downtown, main street, or rural America.”

Both Comcast and Charter are emerging participants in the wireless broadband sector. In meetings with the FCC, the companies have encouraged the agency to promote infrastructure deployment in a technology neutral manner that avoids preference for any industry segment.

These companies say the Commission could meaningfully advance 5G deployment without creating disparities by focusing its wireless broadband deployment efforts on streamlining access to public rights of way or the installation of small cell equipment and deferring any action on associated wireline facilities to a more comprehensive review of wireline infrastructure. They emphasize the FCC’s recent conclusion that there is already a robust supply of fiber infrastructure and a competitive market capable of meeting backhaul needs.

To be sure, 5G wireless technology will change the world as we now know it. It will facilitate faster communications, unlimited interoperability, and transform everything from commerce, entertainment, family life, travel, health care and more. It promises smart devices, smart cities, and even smarter businesses. While 4G ushered in the app economy, 5G promises the Internet of Everything, Everywhere for Everyone.

Nobody knows which company or companies will come out ahead in the race to 5G.  But we can be sure the robust competition in the early stages will land American consumers in the winner’s circle.

Adonis Hoffman is chairman of Business in the Public Interest, Inc and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He is a former chief of staff and senior legal advisor at the FCC. Follow him on Twitter @AdonisHoffman.

Tags 5G Information and communications technology Mobile technology Wilbur Ross

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