Issues & Insights

Opening Up Mid-Band Spectrum Is Key For America To Win 5G Race

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The COVID-19 public health crisis caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and push the nation toward recession. While the U.S. fights the novel virus, our country finds itself in the race to 5G with China, who is seeking a competitive edge in the global economy. Now is the time for the U.S. to step up their 5G build-out efforts and free-up poorly utilized spectrum to lead the world in emerging 5G economies.

The potential for 5G is incredible. A study by CTIA, the wireless industry group, estimates 5G will benefit more than 22 million workers, with economic benefits of more than $13 trillion. This is why it is pertinent for the U.S. to win the race to 5G.

Millions of Americans are anxiously awaiting a 5G roll-out, especially those who are most impacted by the digital divide. September’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing was eye-opening to the issues we face as we build out our network. While the Pentagon sits on valuable spectrum airwaves, service providers testified that they need the military’s wireless spectrum to build a 5G network. This spectrum is a key component to bridging the digital divide.

Americans are relying heavily on wireless and internet connectivity on their cell phones and Wi‑Fi to work from home, attend online classes, and stay connected with friends and family.  But for our nation’s communications providers to meet consumers’ surging demand, Congress and government agencies must help service providers by freeing up additional spectrum.

This is accomplished by auctioning spectrum and designating more spectrum for unlicensed use, like Wi‑Fi. Spectrum is the infrastructure of strong wireless networks, built by service providers. These networks are comprehensive and nationwide, but service providers need an abundance of resources to effectively build these networks.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed opening up mid-band spectrum, which includes radio frequencies for wireless connections and the 5G backbone. Pai’s actions will ensure wireless providers can offer new 5G services in optimal spectrum and enable 5G traffic to offload to gigabit Wi‑Fi networks for residential and business  users. The upcoming C-band auction, set for December 8, and the FCC’s order freeing 1200 megahertz for Wi-Fi, will keep the spectrum build out on track.

From the most recent 5G spectrum auction, proceeds from the 3.5 GHz band exceeded $4.5 billion. This auction is the beginning of an array of spectrum auctions that will increase wireless innovation and benefit U.S. consumers and the American economy. As we continue to deploy 5G services, we need to invest in reliable infrastructure to deliver these next-generation services nationwide, especially in areas where the digital divide is prominent.

The 5G economy is lucrative, to say the least. Nationwide, 5G will unlock economic benefits and bring new jobs, with $275 billion in investments and $500 billion in added economic growth expected. Industries ranging from healthcare to e-commerce to education will see positive impacts from the power of 5G. It will help businesses and consumers react quicker to data and content, make our cities more efficient, and cut down on internet download and upload speeds.

While there is still a ways to go with the country’s 5G build-out, there are a few important success factors to build a dynamic 5G economy. Building out the network infrastructure to power these 5G networks will help Americans to quickly adopt this next-generation of wireless connectivity and gain a competitive edge over China.

study from Boston Consulting Group shows that increasing the availability of spectrum, especially in the mid-band, is the top success factor to power an innovative next generation network. Congress and the FCC have to revamp outdated policies in order to have a successful network.

By freeing up spectrum, particularly in the mid-band, we will set up the nation’s top service providers for success with the ability to pivot and dominate a global 5G market and economy. We cannot afford to let precious spectrum go to waste. While the country faces a time of economic uncertainty, let’s invest in the next-generation network that will boost economic recovery and help the U.S. come out on top of the race to 5G.

Gerard Scimeca is an attorney and co-founder of CASE, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization.

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