The Global Race for 5G Leadership

The Global Race for 5G Leadership

February 27, 2017

The wireless world is focused on Barcelona this week—and one thing is clear: the global race to lead the next generation of wireless has begun.

From Canada and China to Japan and the U.K., countries are recognizing the benefits that flow from wireless leadership. By making more spectrum available for 5G and streamlining infrastructure policies, nations are jockeying to serve as the launch pad for wireless innovation and economic growth for the next decade.  

While the United States won the battle to lead the world in 4G, it’s time for us to step up once again. And make no mistake: the stakes are high. Our country’s 4G leadership has meant millions of jobs and hundreds of billions in economic impact annually—not to mention consumers who benefit each year from faster speeds, greater value, and unparalleled choice among wireless devices, services, and plans.

Americans understand this: 83% feel it’s important for the U.S. to lead the rest of the world in wireless innovation. They’re right. While our consumers have seen first-hand what a world-leading mobile experience offers, other countries have seen from afar the benefits of our 4G leadership. Now, those countries are making aggressive moves, attempting to stake a claim for global 5G leadership.

America’s wireless industry is already investing millions in research and development and has active technology trials across our nation. But we need policymakers to help. Because when millions of jobs and billions in investment are on the line, we need smart policies on spectrum, infrastructure, and more to maintain our wireless lead in 5G.

Reallocating Spectrum for 5G.  The United States is wrapping up the successful incentive auction right now and the FCC has identified important high-band spectrum for future auction, but other countries are moving aggressively to make more spectrum available for 5G. The challenge—America does not have another spectrum auction scheduled right now. 

Meanwhile, as part of its 5G For Europe Action Plan, the European Commission has called for making provisional spectrum bands available for 5G ahead of the 2019 World Radio Communication Conference, including the 700 MHz band, the 3400-3800 MHz band, and additional spectrum above 6 GHz. Japan is evaluating 800 megahertz in the 3400-4200 MHz band and South Korea is studying the 3400-3700 MHz band for 5G.

China, which already has an ongoing 5G technology trial in the 3400-3600 MHz band, has also allocated 100 megahertz-wide channels to each of the three Chinese national operators in the 3.5 GHz band for the next generation of wireless. That’s 300 megahertz of important spectrum to support new 5G services and applications. 

The U.S. needs a similar national commitment to identifying additional low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.    

Streamlining Infrastructure for 5G. Nations are also taking actions to facilitate deployment of the hundreds of thousands of “small cells” that 5G will require. That’s a key part of the 5G buildout formula because regulations designed for 250-foot tall cell towers need to be updated to accommodate these pizza box-sized antennas that are the future of wireless infrastructure.

For example, countries are streamlining zoning processes for small cell deployments that meet reduced power or antenna height limits. France, Germany, Japan, India, and Malaysia now allow for faster approvals for defined power levels, while Canada, Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands have streamlined approvals for certain deployments not exceeding certain antenna heights.

We need a similar commitment for local, state and federal leaders to streamline deployment. 

Investing in 5G. Across the globe, countries are also making political and financial commitments to prepare for 5G. Europe committed $759 million to support 5G activities as part of its Horizon 2020 Programme—the European Union’s central framework for research and innovation. The EU also signed multilateral 5G cooperation agreements and initiatives with Brazil, South Korea, Japan, and China.

Similarly, South Korea’s government committed $1.5 billion to its “5G Creative Mobile Strategy” and the country expects to launch a 5G trial network for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. And China will invest roughly $170 billion to boost broadband across the country, including R&D for 5G technologies. 

America’s wireless industry is not seeking government funding for 5G deployment—in fact, we’re projected to invest more than $275 billion in private capital to deploy these networks.  But the financial investment from other countries underscores the need for U.S. policymakers to get our spectrum and infrastructure siting policies right. 

America’s Continued Wireless Leadership. Our global competitors are already laying the groundwork to assert 5G leadership. But with the right mix of policies, our members stand ready to make the investment necessary for our 5G-powered future.

We have a simple ask for America’s policymakers: Help us invest. Help us create jobs. And help us ensure that America remains the global leader in wireless.



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