The prospects for the U.S. mobile industry winning the global 5G race are promising. But, as with any race, winning depends on the determination to win no matter what happens in the middle of the race.
5G Race Criterion 1
. Although the 2018 Analysis Mason study indicates China and South Korea have allocated spectrum at a quicker pace than the U.S., the U.S. is making good progress. The U.S. has been implementing the reallocation of low-band spectrum harvested from the over-the-air TV broadcasting incentive auction, which appears to be on schedule. The FCC is concentrating efforts in a number of current proceedings to locate and reallocate additional mid-band spectrum, all of which is currently used by other spectrum users. Finally, it has reallocated high-band spectrum for mobile broadband use, and several auctions of that spectrum are scheduled to be completed during 2019.
5G Race Criterion 2
. The FCC published detailed plans in its various spectrum reallocation rulemaking orders and notices regarding 5G-usable spectrum. The Administration tasked NTIA and federal agencies with developing a national spectrum plan during 2019 that is expected to include 5G deployment plans. The Free State Foundation filed
, together with many other interested parties, suggesting principles that should be identified in such plan and actions that should be taken.
5G Race Criterion 3
. The federal government clearly backs 5G deployment as a national policy. Government backing also requires ensuring access to infrastructure to site the numerous small cells that are characteristic of 5G networks. The FCC has adopted streamlined requirements that encourage local zoning authorities to quickly process siting applications with reasonable fees. Nearly half the states have passed legislation that aims to accomplish similar objectives. And the federal government convened a task force that is taking steps to promote access to federal sites for small cells, using streamlined processes and a common application form to aid in such efforts.
5G Race Criteria 4 & 5
. U.S. mobile providers have either conducted or are conducting a number of trials and announced plans over the near term to deploy 5G in their mobile broadband networks.
Although many of the actions recited above bode well for maintaining U.S. global 5G leadership, certain issues still must be addressed. Even though spectrum reallocation is proceeding apace, the relinquishment of federal government spectrum not needed for efficient operations is lagging. For its part, the FCC should bring to decision particular spectrum proceedings that have been pending for a very long time. For example, the FCC, in coordination with NTIA, should act on the long-pending applications of Ligado to modify its L-Band spectrum licenses in order to deploy a hybrid terrestrial-satellite network. This will likely accelerate the arrival of 5G networks that will deliver “Internet of Things” (IoT) services and applications. From all the evidence, it appears that over the past several years Ligado has worked diligently to resolve all claimed interference concerns, even though some objections purportedly are based on interference metrics that have never been accepted by the FCC.
Local governments need to become partners in the 5G infrastructure deployment process. Although the FCC has taken steps to streamline small cell siting, local governments continue litigation on multiple fronts that hinders the FCC’s efforts. Such intergovernmental bickering should cease, or at least be kept to a minimum, in the interest of developing a national policy that can produce the government backing that 5G deployment needs to flourish.
demonstrates, significant advances in spectrum reallocation and government backing of 5G site locations occurred during 2018. Still, both the federal government, with its spectrum reallocation and assignment actions, and local governments, with a renewed commitment to take actions that remove unreasonable impediments to 5G-related infrastructure deployments, should increase their efforts so that the U.S. will be the global leader in 5G. If they do, consumer welfare will improve significantly to the benefit of the U.S. economy and consumers.
Gregory J. Vogt is a Visiting Fellow of the
Free State Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan free market-oriented think tank located in Rockville, Maryland.
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