When South Korea hosts the Winter Olympic Games in 2018, it will be competing for far more than just Olympic gold. The country is attempting to win a new race for the future by deploying the world’s first trial 5G network. Japan aims to follow suit when it hosts the 2020 summer Olympics, with Europe and China hot on their heels in the race for 5G global leadership. At a time when mobile broadband is quickly taking center stage as a critical engine for boosting economic growth and extending opportunity, we too must act decisively — and soon — to continue our international wireless leadership into this next great wireless frontier.
In 2010, our country united behind a National Broadband Plan. Today, more than 98% of Americans have access to high-speed wireless Internet and the interplay of smart public policy and massive private investment and innovation has made the U.S. home to roughly half of all 4G LTE connections. With the next generation in wireless networks visible on the horizon and our global economic rivals moving aggressively, it’s time for a new national plan to mobilize America for a 5G world.
While the exact technologies that will enable 5G have yet to be specifically defined, we know directionally where it is headed — forward. This next wireless revolution will be about far more than connecting our mobile devices at faster speeds. Our homes, cars and virtually every other real-world “thing” will become sentient, transforming whole sectors of our economy — from transportation and energy to health care and manufacturing.
Realizing 5G’s full potential will require a quantum leap in connectivity: Speeds 100 times faster than today, split-second reaction times for applications like autonomous vehicles and reductions in energy-per-bit consumption by a factor of 1,000 to support billions of simultaneously connected devices. Some of our greatest scientific minds are focused on these challenges today, and U.S. policy should support their mission-critical work.
As this next mobile revolution prepares to ripple through our economy and our lives, smart wireless policy becomes essential. A comprehensive strategy to mobilize America must:
· Tackle our nation’s toughest challenges. Reducing barriers to wireless innovation can accelerate breakthroughs aimed at major national objectives–from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improving automobile safety, to revolutionizing health care.
· Speed access to more spectrum. It can take as long as seven years to free up a single spectrum band, and the U.S. has no national plan for identifying spectrum beyond 2020. Policymakers must develop a long-term strategy for securing increasingly scarce spectrum and making it available to support rapidly expanding wireless connectivity.
· Lower barriers for mobile innovation and investment. World-leading wireless networks require regular and profound levels of private sector investment — $32 billion last year in the U.S. alone. Any national strategy must work to ensure a consistent and constructive policy environment that encourages this formidable competitive advantage.
· Boost competitive R&D. While our global rivals invest billions, U.S. federal investment in research and development has fallen from nearly 10 percent of government spending during the height of the space race in 1968 to just three percent of federal outlays in 2015. We need to stoke the innovation bonfire with basic and targeted research for wireless discovery and innovation.
· Flood the talent pipeline. There are roughly half a million U.S. job openings that have not been filled in information technology fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. Creating opportunities for American workers to receive the training and education they need to participate in a 5G economy will accelerate job growth — and our nation’s wireless innovation leadership.
While dominance in the Olympic pool or on the ski slopes comes with bragging rights, U.S. 5G leadership is one race we cannot afford to lose. That’s because this isn’t just a race for achieving blazing fast wireless speeds, it’s about who will shape the foundational technologies of the future and drive the new industries that will propel this global transition. With smart policy choices, we can also position ourselves to harness these new technologies to help solve some of our most pressing policy problems. The good news is we are already well-positioned at the starting blocks today. The bad news is that it’s a marathon and we can’t maintain our lead by resting on our laurels or without a strategic plan to chart our path forward. It’s time for America to once again crank up its innovation engine, begin shaping the technologies of the future, and to help mobilize America with a bold strategy for unleashing 5G’s full potential.