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Fifth generation, or 5G, wireless technology stands to enhance consumers’ experience with mobile technology by offering faster speeds and more reliable connectivity. But where 5G will have a much bigger impact is its ability to speed machine-to-machine interactions, making response times for data sharing faster, and advancing automation capabilities. As devices are able to interact behind-the-scenes at almost zero latency using 5G networks, and cloud-based technologies enable streaming to connected devices from anywhere in the world, the current mobile ecosystem will be disrupted. Ensuring that 5G technologies reach their potential is essential because it is a significant part of the platform that will serve as the basis for tomorrow’s economy, and the government has an important role to play.
Fundamental to the advancement of 5G is the modernization of regulations on radio wave spectrum management that are governed by the Federal Communication Commission and other government departments that allocate spectrum. Encouraging necessary changes in how spectrum is allocated will bring the degree of certainty necessary for the market investment that will fund operators and suppliers building and deploying the small cells and equipment that make up the network.
US spectrum policy has historically assumed a cushion of space is needed between spectrum bands to manage interference by neighboring technologies. But we now recognize that spectrum can be used in a better way, with more density (and thus more efficiency), giving users significantly more capacity on the same low, mid, and high-band spectrum assets. Making more spectrum available through auctions will enable US companies to access the spectrum necessary for the critical infrastructure buildout of 5G networks. It will be simpler to deploy necessary small cells and the technologies that will run on the new network.
Committing to fresh thinking on spectrum use and moving away from outdated methods of spectrum regulation will allow industries to take advantage of technological innovation on the horizon and make far better use of spectrum compared with the past. It is encouraging to see the capabilities of new technologies recognized, and policies around spectrum use upgraded by the White House, the FCC, and local governments that know they must clear the path for progress to ensue.
Demands on local infrastructure should be harmonized to handle the growing needs that will come with new technologies. 5G cell towers may manage more than 100 times the volume of current 4G signals, meaning more capacity and less latency in every transaction. 5G networks will necessitate the deployment of smaller base stations with closer proximity to the technologies and devices making use of these dense radio wave capabilities. Local governments regulating cell tower deployment have to recognize the difference between today’s smaller cell sites and the large tower deployment of yesterday, and the value of allowing a more efficient model for spectrum to benefit both consumers and the economy.
The several agencies that manage spectrum for the federal government have discussed a strategic plan that would harmonize their policies. This national effort would help incentivize capital investment for the deployment of the new platform for next-generation technologies. The mobile industry, through its wireless trade association, CTIA, has created a three-point plan that reflects the work being done at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to help modernize government policies through a National Spectrum Strategy. It will be crucial for the White House to provide leadership and strategic guidance to federal agencies on the changes that need to be made to remove the barriers to 5G implementation. The ability for governments to accelerate openings around innovative technology will enhance the economy and help move the US toward the next generation of technology that is unfolding on a global scale.
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