Laying claim to almost half of all 4G LTE connections in the world, the U.S. is the global leader in the advancement of cutting-edge, next-generation wireless technology, harnessing the power of these networks to meet skyrocketing demand for connectivity and fuel our nation’s thriving mobile economy. But, while record investment and innovation has positioned the U.S. atop the global mobile leaderboard, we will soon be catapulted into a completely new and groundbreaking frontier in wireless: 5G.
Being on the vanguard of the next wireless revolution means the U.S. must kick into high gear to chart a clear path to maintaining leadership in a 5G world. In an insightful new paper from Mobile Future, “Mobilizing America: Accelerating the Next Generation Wireless Opportunities Everywhere,” my friend, colleague, and Mobile Future co-Advisory Board member Jim Kohlenberger addresses the pressing need for a national strategy to ensure we are proactively embracing policies that will propel the nation forward in this global race to the top.
The blueprint for our future wireless ecosystem — even just five years from now — looks vastly different from the connected world we live in today. By 2020 there will be an estimated 25 billion Internet-connected devices — this includes mobile phones and tablets of course, but also connected “things” like cars and an array of wearables devices. It is estimated that by 2020, nearly 97 percent of new cars shipped in the U.S. will have the capability to connect to the Internet. And traffic from wearables will grow by at-least 19 fold in that same five-year span.
In addition to the billions of devices vying for mobile airwaves, mobile video is perhaps the most overwhelming source of strain on our networks, forecasted to constitute 75 percent of mobile data traffic by 2019. To fully realize the power and promise mobile technology holds, over the next five years and beyond, we are going to need networks that are faster, smarter, and more flexible.
While engineers are hard at work thinking-through what next generation networks actually will look like, there is little doubt that the 5G technology will be at the heart of future growth and innovation in wireless. With gigabit speeds 100 times faster than those we use today and the capability to tap into higher spectrum frequencies, these software-defined networks will have greater flexibility to adapt to the ever evolving mobile ecosystem, and support the billions of gadgets that are becoming seamless parts of everyday life. 5G is already sparking intense global competition that will drive the global innovation economy to unparalleled heights.
But policymakers must ensure the environment is ripe for the investment and innovation needed to drive the transition to 5G in the United States. While the U.S. continues to lead in 4G deployment — we still have much work and much investment ahead to fully realize the global potential of LTE. At the same time, we also must make it a national priority to free up more spectrum — the invisible airwaves that serve as the lifeblood of our mobile ecosystem. As Jim urges in his paper, this requires a proactive, unified national strategy to “mobilize America” and make leadership in 5G a priority.
Other countries have already shown a sense of urgency in becoming the first to get 5G networks off the ground. And they are putting substantial money and moxie behind this effort. South Korea and China have their eyes on their upcoming Olympic Games in 2018 to launch their 5G trial networks. Meanwhile, Europe has initiated a 5G Public Private Partnership (PPP) to garner investment and innovation. In Finland the building of a first 5G test network is already underway. In Latin America, South Asia, and also Africa, the race to 5G also is afoot.
With a booming mobile marketplace that is the envy of the world, the United States has been the global leader in 4G networks that have fueled this incredible growth and innovation. But as Jim reminds us in his paper, if we are to continue our national mobile success story, we must continue now to seize the opportunities to lead the world into the next great wireless frontier. For the sake of the next generation of our networks and our families, we don’t have a moment to lose.