The ongoing development of next-generation “5G” wireless technologies represents a unique opportunity to radically expand the capacity and flexibility of wireless networks, with profound implications for broadband competition and productivity growth.
Policymakers at the national and local level should support the development of 5G wireless networks, primarily by ensuring new spectrum is available and by streamlining deployment of physical infrastructure, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the country’s top science and technology think tank.
“With 5G, we will move beyond networks built only for mobile phones and toward networks that connect all kinds of devices,” said Doug Brake, ITIF’s telecommunications policy analyst and the report’s author. “5G means wildly increased capacity for broadband, enabling ultra-high-definition streaming and augmented reality, but also far more numerous and less costly connections to support the growth of the Internet of Things. But policymaker support to streamline deployment at the local level will be key to seeing it truly flourish.”
The report outlines three challenges facing the current 4G wireless networks that are driving the development of its 5G successor: the need to enhance mobile broadband with great capacity and reliability for consumers, the need for a network that can support the massive deployment of the Internet of Things, and the need for a highly dependable network to support critical communications and public safety functions.
The report offers two main policy recommendations for how policymakers can set the stage for the development of 5G:
- First, national policymakers should focus on bringing high-band “millimeter wave” spectrum to market, rather than attempting to control the standards-setting process. Here, the Federal Communications Commission is setting a good example, working to get high-band spectrum into the hands of innovators.
- Second, the report recommends streamlined infrastructure deployment at the local level. Wired backhaul connections and small-cell siting will be key to the dense wireless networks of tomorrow. Municipalities should view 5G deployment as a cooperative effort, bringing additional connectivity to improve citizens’ lives and enhancing government services.
“A confluence of technologies will enable an adaptable 5G network that can support exciting new applications,” said Brake. “But deployment of such a network will be limited by economic realities. Policymakers on every level of the government should aim to make infrastructure deployment as efficient as possible to see the flourishing of 5G networks.”