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As the U.S. battles for its 5G leadership position, what actions taken by industry and government could result in a geopolitical advantage?

As the U.S. battles for its 5G leadership position, what actions taken by industry and government could result in a geopolitical advantage?

Upping spectrum availability, focusing policy on decentralization and leveraging OpenRAN are among the suggestions made by members of Protocol's Braintrust.

John Godfrey

Senior Vice President, Public Policy at Samsung Electronics America

5G is powering a wave of innovation worldwide. Just as 4G sparked a smartphone revolution a decade ago, 5G will sweep away old ways of operating for companies, governments and consumers while creating exciting opportunities for bold innovators to build entirely new businesses, create jobs and improve lives.

But the U.S. must be careful not to fall behind in the race to 5G-powered innovation. Specifically, we must redouble efforts to accelerate 5G deployment here, so that innovations that use the high speed, low latency and massive connectivity of 5G — including connected driving, augmented reality, telepresence, smart agriculture and unimagined others — will be developed and perfected in the U.S.

It's not too late to assert and maintain U.S. 5G leadership, but policymakers must quickly act to:

  • Bring more wireless spectrum into commercial use as fast as possible, especially in the 2 GHz to 6 GHz midband, which is a sweet spot for coverage and capacity.
  • Streamline local government zoning approval of infrastructure deployment.
  • Promote global cooperation to use trusted, secure 5G.
  • Apply 5G innovation to transform government missions such as emergency response, military training and veterans' health.

Morgan Kurk

Chief Technology Officer at CommScope

As countries seek to win (or at least place) in the "race to 5G," technologies, such as Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN), are seen as key policy enablers. OpenRAN is an initiative to standardize the communications interfaces between the various components in the Radio Access Network over existing technologies such as fiber, Ethernet and TCP/IP. The U.S. government could lead on this initiative by encouraging the further development and deployment of OpenRAN-compliant 5G networks.

In addition, the U.S. could also offer investment credits or other incentives to develop various portions of the network for U.S. companies, which would reduce the risk of development for a market that heretofore has steered away from spending money with small suppliers. CommScope supports the various government initiatives and legislative proposals to allocate federal funds for OpenRAN research and development. This type of government support would accelerate domestic development, helping to secure future U.S. leadership in this key technology field.

Niklas Heuveldop

President and CEO at Ericsson North America

The 5G race is clearly of paramount importance to the U.S.

The U.S. led the 4G race, and today the U.S. wireless industry enables 20.4 million jobs and $690.5 billion in GDP including "app economy" superstars like Airbnb, Netflix and Uber.

Following a head start with first commercial 5G deployments in 2018, the U.S. has been overtaken by other leading nations in the 5G race, determined to secure a first-mover advantage. This will enable their industrial powerhouses and developer ecosystems to leapfrog the U.S. in innovating new value-added services on top of the 5G innovation platform.

What is wrong? The U.S. needs access to more midband spectrum, now. All frontrunners, without exception, have access to much more midband spectrum than the U.S. today. More spectrum is on the way, but availability will take time.

The U.S. leads in mmWave spectrum availability, but due to complex and time-consuming zoning and permitting processes, the leading service providers cannot add new sites at the pace required to build out coverage to offer a differentiated experience.

The U.S. must therefore focus all efforts on aggressively removing barriers for densifying networks, to maximize the use of available, but not yet in service, mmWave spectrum, while also accelerating availability of midband spectrum.

In parallel, the extended U.S. wireless ecosystem must collaborate and expose the nascent 5G network platform to developer ecosystems. 5G-enabled innovation in the consumer, enterprise and public sectors is where the real value will be created. Go 5G!

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Leticia Latino van-Splunteren

President & CEO at Neptuno USA Corp.

5G is a disruptive technology. No wonder there is a global race for leadership over it. 5G will fuel the "digital economy" to a degree that we cannot yet envision. Its low latency will enable the "Internet of Things" and the real-time connectedness needed for robotics and automation, autonomous vehicles, telemedicine and smart energy grids at the core of smart cities. With all these benefits, we need to ensure its deployment does not broaden the digital divide, heighten security and privacy threats, or overcrowd the airwaves.

Some of the key challenges preventing 5G infrastructure from being deployed at a faster speed in the U.S. are:

  • Spectrum availability
  • Permitting and regulatory obstacles, both at the federal and local levels
  • Shortage of a skilled workforce

Solving these challenges involves creativity and disposition. The good news is that the FCC is showing great leadership and has initiatives devoted to fast-track deployment, such as opening up new radio frequency spectrum, establishing new permit review times (shot clocks) for small wireless facilities by local governments, and advocating for workforce development, to name a few. The $80 billion recently approved by the House of Representatives to deploy broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities is also a great indication that the U.S. has no intention to let deployments slow down, and much less lose the race to 5G.

Fueled by the impact of the "new normal" courtesy of COVID, government and private industry have a unique opportunity, not only to win the race to 5G, but to do it inspired by a higher purpose: connectivity for all. Now more than ever we have tasted the "essential" quality of robust and reliable connectivity (or lack thereof!). If the reality of the digital divide was worrisome, the thought that some kids are not able to attend online learning classes for lack of broadband connection should be intolerable. Educated citizens will always be an invaluable advantage. Let's use 5G to close the digital divide with even greater connectivity when we need it most.

Doug Brake

Director, Broadband and Spectrum Policy at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

We should care about 5G leadership in a couple of different areas, which come with different policy levers. Encouraging early, broad deployment of robust 5G networks will give U.S. innovators a jump on creating the next-gen applications that can take advantage of the leaps in performances. The FCC has taken steps to streamline the permitting of wireless infrastructure and is working to repurpose spectrum for 5G. The government can also seek to be a lead user of advanced wireless services and speed adopter through smart infrastructure deployments. There are also opportunities to expand our nation's competitiveness in wireless innovation itself. The software, components and architectures of 5G networks and related services will continue to evolve.

There are opportunities for the government to accelerate innovation in a way that plays to the strengths of our decentralized, entrepreneurial market system. In particular, R&D and test bed funding to help transition to a more diverse wireless equipment market is warranted. Policymakers should nudge existing market forces toward this decentralized future, where wireless equipment shifts away from the big, integrated boxes sold by a handful of suppliers toward a system of custom software running on generic hardware components, all stitched together through openly defined interfaces.

This shift is especially important to forestall a potential future where Huawei corners the global telecom equipment market with the help of unfair Chinese policies.

John Baker

SVP, Business Development at Mavenir

U.S. government recognition that the U.S. is already well-positioned to take the lead in 5G by leveraging OpenRAN.

OpenRAN is built on the two basic principles of "open interfaces" and network element "interoperability," which in turn leverages the supply of network elements from a wider industry base. Today this supply base is already supplying the 5G ecosystem, but efforts are hidden by the two major OEMs with proprietary software and hardware interfaces, making it almost impossible for new entrants to compete and innovate.

With a U.S. government-led OpenRAN initiative, U.S. technology companies like Mavenir and other like-minded companies (there are 54 members of the OpenRAN policy coalition) that today are either full end-to-end systems or individual element/component suppliers, that overnight widens the supply chain currently controlled by a duopoly. The principles of OpenRAN are global and all inclusive, breaking down barriers to allow global investment, competition and technological innovation that brings to the forefront U.S. sources of technology to the benefit of the wireless consumer.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Sept. 9, 2020).

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