Deregulation and wireless spectrum allocation is paying off in the United States. A recent report shows the country is now tied for first in the world for 5G wireless readiness. More than 100 times faster than 4G, 5G has the potential to help close the digital divide without taxpayer money, according to the report.
The examination by wireless industry group CTIA shows that after lagging behind China and South Korea in previous years, the U.S. has pulled into a tie with China as global leader. CTIA says the keys to this development are wireless deregulation and spectrum auctions.
“This tremendous improvement is thanks to the quick action and visionary leadership of policymakers, which empowered America’s commercial wireless industry to forge ahead in the global 5G race,” the report says.
The U.S. is expected to see 92 5G wireless network deployments by the end of 2019, well ahead of South Korea in second place, with 48, according to the report.
CTIA gives kudos to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) effort to free up spectrum for use in 5G development. The FCC’s Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (FAST) plan calls for the auctioning off of high-, mid- and low-band spectrum in the coming years.
The AIRWAVES Act, a congressional bill, would codify those auctions, but the legislation has stalled in Congress.
The FCC auctioned off 24GHz high-band spectrum in March with the announcement of more spectrum sales expected in the coming months.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who is leading the fight for wireless development, previously told the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation that regulatory relief and spectrum allocation are keys because foreign rivals want to win the race to 5G.
“They saw the U.S. leadership in 4G and they want to try to beat us to the punch in 5G, whether it’s Europe, countries in South America, Korea, Japan. They’re all moving very aggressively, both on a spectrum and infrastructure front to get the lead in 5G,” he said.
The CTIA report says the U.S. leads the world in allocation of both low- and high-band spectrum, although most of the low-band is now being used for 4G. The U.S. has assigned 716 megahertz for wireless communications, compared to 690 MHz in Australia and 689 in Germany. The U.S. has assigned 2,500 MHz of high-band spectrum, with South Korea just behind at 2,400 MHz.
The U.S. has yet to allocate any mid-band spectrum, however.
“While America ranks strongly in the majority of 5G-readiness metrics, China and many other countries are ahead in making critical mid-band spectrum available for 5G,” the report says. “Rectifying that deficit should be central to the Administration’s efforts.”
Bartlett D. Cleland, research fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation, said the FCC “needs to establish a continuous supply of spectrum via auctions, on a schedule that will provide a regular flow of low, mid and high bands of spectrum. They must keep unlicensed bands open and available as well.”
“But these moves alone do not guarantee success,” he added. “Government policies need to make sure that the spectrum that is made available is being used optimally so that all that need it can get to it. Making more spectrum available via the free market allows for this resource to be allocated to its most efficient purpose, particularly when government policies are in concert, and not opposed, to that goal.”
It’s expected that the wireless industry could invest $275 billion and generate $500 billion in economic growth and create 3 million new jobs in the quest for 5G.