Five things to know about 5G

Five things to know about 5G

The tech and telecom industries are preparing for a new era of wireless known as 5G, which they believe could usher in massive economic opportunities.

5G, short for fifth generation, aims to deliver much faster wireless for mobile users and spur new innovation for internet-connected devices.

Here are five things to know about the new technology.

 

The industry is promising remarkable new advances.

The private sector says that 5G networks will bring a technological revolution.

The transition from 3G to 4G enabled mobile users to access the internet at speeds comparable to a desktop, allowing an entire new economy to flourish, driven by “gig” apps like Uber and social networks.

5G's biggest cheerleaders say adopting the new standard will bring blazing-fast wireless internet speeds and increased capacity to deal with the growth in internet devices and user demand for bandwidth.

5G has the potential to bring virtual reality to mobile users, give driverless cars the ability to “talk” to each other and enable the development of “smart cities,” which use data to better manage infrastructure.

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There’s even the prospect that the improved networks will allow doctors to remotely perform surgeries by controlling robotic arms. 5G advocates some that will help bring advanced medical services to underserved and hard to reach areas.

 

For Washington, 5G is a national security matter.

Lawmakers and regulators clearly see 5G as vital to both the nation’s economy and national security.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE took the extraordinary move in March of intervening to block Broadcom’s attempted hostile takeover of the San Diego-based chipmaker Qualcomm.

The administration cited concerns that Broadcom, which was based in Singapore at the time, would hamper Qualcomm’s investments in developing 5G technology, threatening the country’s development of the new networks and allowing other countries to overtake the U.S.

A Treasury Department official told the companies that “a shift to Chinese dominance in 5G would have substantial negative national security consequences for the United States.”

Lawmakers are also concerned about the possibility of Chinese telecom firms like Huawei and ZTE breaking into the U.S. market and compromising the security of a future wireless network. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have pushed back against Trump’s decision to lift sanctions on ZTE amid trade talks with China.

The White House was also the center of another controversy in January when Axios published a leaked document showing the National Security Council considered a proposal to nationalize 5G. Though there’s little evidence the administration was moving forward with the idea, it highlighted the national security concerns over 5G.

 

5G deployment will take years and massive investments.

The private and public sectors are making big promises when it comes to 5G, but most experts acknowledge that full nationwide deployment won’t happen for at least five years.

Providers like Verizon and AT&T have already started rolling out initial 5G deployments in select cities, and while users will likely see faster broadband speeds, the real potential of the network won’t be realized until coverage is more widespread.

One of the biggest hurdles that companies face is the massive deployment of hardware required to make 5G a reality.

4th-generation networks require cell towers that can deploy signals for miles. The next generation network will require much smaller cell stations about the size of a refrigerator every few blocks in order to bring coverage.

That’s a huge undertaking that requires the cooperation of local and federal officials and massive investments from both the private sector and government.

 

A regulatory fight is brewing.

Next week, the FCC will vote on a proposed rule that would limit how much cities and local communities could charge companies for installing the many small cells needed for 5G deployment.

The proposal is kicking off what might be the first major regulatory battle in the 5G rollout.

Critics say that it will hamstring local authorities in their negotiations with wireless carriers, leading to less revenue for municipal services. The result, they say, is taxpayers shouldering more of the build-out costs, while Verizon and AT&T get a bigger payday.

Proponents of the rule argue that capping the local fees will free up more resources for companies to invest in the rollout, allowing them to expand their deployment into underserved areas. The GOP-led FCC estimates that it will ultimately save wireless carriers $2 billion in fees.

If the proposal passes as expected at the FCC’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, it will likely lead to a court battle. A number of groups, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, have already promised to sue the FCC if it approves the measure.

 

There are 5G skeptics.

Not everyone is convinced by the promises the industry is making, and the FCC’s approach to promoting the rollout has brought criticism, particularly over the proposal being voted on next week.

Municipal groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which threatened to sue over the rule, are worried federal officials are trying to prevent them from overseeing 5G deployments in their own communities.

And a chief concern among public interest advocates is that the rush to deregulation will lead to many communities being left behind. They believe that companies don’t have much incentive to invest in rural areas, many of which lack adequate fixed or wireless internet options.

There are also concerns about whether 5G technology will be fully deployed in poorer communities.

“I would say the consequence of this and other mindless deregulation is that it's just going to perpetuate the digital divide and make it even worse,” said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge.