5G will be a major leap forward for mobile technology, bringing not just faster speed and lower latency, but also introducing mobile connectivity to a vast range of industries.
However, for the promise of 5G to realize, and for the technology be deployed as widely as possible so that the most people can benefit from it, there’s a key part of mobile wireless infrastructure that deserves the attention of policy makers –spectrum.
Spectrum refers to the electromagnetic radiation and frequency bands over which wireless signals travel, and it is the critical ingredient that will make all of the exciting technologies we’ve been hearing about– like driverless cars, mixed reality and the Internet of Things – possible.
These frequencies range from high to low, and the different bands have differing strengths and weaknesses. The federal government, more specifically the FCC, regulates most access to spectrum. All the high-tech radios and antennas in the world won’t get 5G to the masses if there isn’t available spectrum for carriers to deliver their services. And all the US wireless operators agree the projections of long-term mobile traffic lead to one conclusion – more spectrum must be made available to meet the needs of consumers, especially when it comes to 5G.
The first 5G deployments have already begun in some US cities. However, enabling the full potential of 5G across the country requires support from the federal government and regulators for timely access to the right amount and type of spectrum. We need a national spectrum strategy to ensure that the opportunity of 5G is available to all.
Licensed mid-band spectrum is crucial. Mid-band spectrum brings together the best features of low-band capability (favorable signal range and the ability to penetrate structures) and that from the higher-bands (increased capacity and faster speeds).
There’s a wave of demand coming for mobile traffic, and we need to be sure there is adequate spectrum available to drive new technology and innovation. An Ericsson Mobility Report from November forecasts that over half (55 percent) of all mobile subscriptions in North America will be 5G by 2024. North America also has the highest monthly data traffic per smartphone, reaching 8.6 gigabytes in 2018. This figure is expected to rise to 50 gigabytes by the end of 2024.
Projected demand for 5G can only be met with new spectrum resources, and to do so, more mid-range spectrum must become available. The United States should prioritize making available as much mid-band spectrum as possible for 5G to not only to meet rising demand in their regions, but also to attract investment and innovation. There are some encouraging signs that the government is taking this need seriously.
The time to act is now. A Presidential memo issued last fall outlined a process for developing a sustainable spectrum pipeline moving forward. The stakes are high: In the United States, 5G is expected to create three million new jobs, generate $275 billion in new investment, and produce $500 billion of economic growth. To take advantage of this, we need to not only look at the hardware of the nation’s mobile wireless infrastructure but the airwaves themselves, ensuring that this opportunity is open to all.
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