President Donald Trump recently hosted an event at the White House and declared that winning the race to develop and deploy 5G — the fifth generation of wireless communications — is important for our nation’s future. Critically, he laid out his vision for how the U.S. will lead in 5G: “In the United States, our approach is private sector driven and private sector led.”
The president’s strategy wisely draws on our experience with 4G LTE wireless networks. U.S. success in 4G was driven primarily by the ingenuity and investment of our private sector, with an assist from our government’s market-friendly policies. The federal government moved early to give private carriers access to the airwaves that carry wireless traffic. U.S. officials also resisted a government-led process for setting technical standards for new LTE networks, relying on private sector experts instead to do the job.
This market-based approach got results: The U.S. was the first country to deploy 4G LTE networks at scale. This made us the haven for 4G innovation and the birthplace of the mobile app economy, adding hundreds of billions to our gross domestic product, creating numerous jobs and producing countless benefits for American consumers. In 2013, America had 4% of the world’s population but about 50% of its LTE connections.
5G will be even more transformative than 4G. Networks will be 100 times faster. They will carry a lot more data. Lag times will be one-tenth of what they are today. So we want Americans to benefit first from this new digital revolution and the breakthroughs it promises in areas ranging from telemedicine to smart transportation to precision agriculture and more. And we want the well-paying jobs it will create.
As the head of the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been working for the past two-plus years to advance a market-based strategy to promote U.S. leadership in 5G. As part of what we call our 5G FAST Plan, the FCC finished its first 5G spectrum auction in January, and we’re holding a second right now that’s already generated almost $2 billion in bids.
One big change from 4G networks is that 5G will rely heavily on a web of small antennas. That’s why we’ve eliminated regulations designed for tall towers that threatened to strangle our 5G future in red tape.
The early results from these efforts are encouraging, and the U.S. is well-positioned to win the race to 5G. A recent independent analysis by ABI Research confirms that “it is the United States who will win the 5G race in the short term,” and cites the “forward-looking moves of the FCC.” And last week, it was reported that 5G-related job listings increased 12% in the previous three weeks.
Today, 5G is a success story — an American success story. But it is also still early. We still need to do more. And we will.
Last week, the FCC announced two new steps to build on this momentum. First, the FCC aims to start its third 5G spectrum auction on Dec. 10 — the largest spectrum auction in our nation’s history and a major step to advancing U.S. leadership in 5G.
Second, to help build the infrastructure of the future, I intend to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund at the FCC. This money will extend high speed broadband to up to 4 million homes and small businesses in rural America. These next-generation networks will bring greater economic opportunity to America’s heartland and will help support future 5G technologies.
The recipe for U.S. leadership in wireless technology is proven and simple: Free up airwaves to accommodate the increase in wireless traffic. Get rid of the red tape that slows the deployment of wireless infrastructure. Provide targeted investments in a fiscally responsible way to extend coverage to areas where there isn’t business case to build. And then get government out of the way as much as possible.
This has been a winning strategy in the past. And, with the president’s leadership and the steps the FCC announced this past week, America is well-positioned to lead in 5G and deliver real benefits to the American people.
Parsons, Kansas, native Ajit Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.