For most consumers and businesses, 5G is still an intangible technology that appears to be driven more by marketing than actual results, but FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr tried to synthesize the opportunity in remarks at the European 5G Conference in Brussels. Carr was unable to travel to the event due to the ongoing partial government shutdown, so he recorded a video to share his vision for 5G and the actions regulators need to take to make it a reality.
From his perspective, the opportunity presented by 5G will come in three parts: better and faster performance on smartphones, more competitive home broadband and a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship. “There’s no question that 5G is going to be transformative both from a technological perspective, but also an economic perspective,” he said in prepared remarks.
“Think back 10 years ago, think back to the last time we were on the cusp of a transition in wireless—then from 3G to 4G technologies. Think about your own life and how different it was,” he said. “4G ushered in this app economy that transformed the way that we live, we work and we play. 5G is going to be even more transformative, and we’re only getting a glimpse at it right now.”
Advanced speeds and capabilities on smartphones are going to be an obvious benefit driven by 5G, but it’s going to be the least transformative of what 5G is going to enable, he said. “With 5G networks, consumers will be able to see fiber-like speeds at their home delivered wirelessly. That’s going to make it a lot easier and lower the regulatory barriers and the costs for multiple operators to compete for your home broadband dollars, and that’s going to be a very good thing for consumers.”
However, increased speeds at home and on the go are going to pale in comparison to the wave of innovation and entrepreneurship that will follow the deployment of 5G, according to Carr. “Whether it’s new telehealth applications, the internet of things, virtual reality, connected cars—there’s going to be a tremendous amount of innovation that this 5G network is going to enable,” he said. “The question for regulators like me is what can we do to make sure that this transition to 5G happens quickly and happens ubiquitously. So that every consumer, no matter where they’re living, can see and realize the economic benefits and opportunity that come with 5G.”
Regulators at the FCC are taking action around infrastructure, spectrum and jobs to speed the deployment of 5G nationwide. “We need to update and modernize our rules,” he said. “The old rules that were in place during the 3G and 4G deployments of the past are simply not up to speed when it comes to the massive new deployment of small cells and other next-generation infrastructure that we need to see to support 5G.”
There are roughly 300,000 cell sites across the country today, but 5G is going to require a 10- to 100-fold increase in cell sites, according to Carr. As such, the FCC has updated environmental preservation review procedures and historic preservation rules by excluding small cells, which will comprise the bulk of 5G infrastructure and put a cap on how long local governments can take to act on applications for adding a small cell to an existing antenna.
“The finish line is not the first time we see 5G deployments,” he said. “The finish line is making sure that every single community in the country has a fair shot at seeing these next-generation 5G networks. In too many cases, a handful of outlier cities were charging exorbitant fees and taking too long to review applications looking to deploy small cells and other 5G infrastructure.”
The FCC is also moving fast to make spectrum available across every band from low- to mid- to high-band spectrum with large blocks of continuous spectrum of 100 megahertz or more in some cases, Carr said. The FCC is currently auctioning 28 GHz spectrum, followed shortly thereafter by an auction for 24 GHz spectrum. The agency hopes to hold to three additional millimeter wave band spectrum auctions later this year.
“I think we’re at a really unique time for consumers in telecom. There’s two great trends that are merging together. On the one hand, we’re seeing these great technological breakthroughs, including the use of millimeter wave spectrum for mobile,” Carr said. “On the other hand, we’re getting our regulations right to support the deployment of these next-generation networks.”
Finally, Carr said a lot of his work at the FCC of late has been designed to make the jobs required for 5G deployments easier from a regulatory perspective. “Deploying next-generation networks, particularly 5G networks, is tough work. It’s a lot of hard hats and bucket trucks, excavators and harnesses. Those jobs are just as important to 5G as coders and programmers,” he said.
“2019 is the year of 5G, it’s the year we're going to see the first commercial launch of 5G networks, the first 5G smartphone and the first truly mobile version of 5G will be deployed,” Carr said.