America’s 5G Plan Takes Shape

After months of speculation on the nature of the nation’s plan for the implementation of 5G, the White House has finally raised the curtain on some crucial details at a brief 5G event at the White House. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spoke at the event, where he sketched some significant outlines following a speech by the president. Ivanka made some brief remarks and the USDA was represented.

Firstly, we’re not going to rely on a government-owned wholesale 5G network, nor are we going to rely on a government fiber backhaul network. This will be disappointing to Obama administration figures such as Susan Crawford, Gigi Sohn, and Kevin Werbach who advocate government control of network infrastructure, of course.

It’s also a blow to Rivada Networks, the Peter Thiel enterprise in whose interests former Speaker Gingrich and Trump campaign leader Brad Parscale have been advocating. Getting the government involved in the construction of the next generation network will slow down its emergence and compromise its performance and security, as the president acknowledged.

Ensuring Spectrum Abundance

There are two critical issues for the rise of 5G: backhaul availability and spectrum. As FCC Commissioner O’Rielly and many others have pointed out, we need to free up spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed use in the low, middle, and high bands.

While there is already a great deal of low band on the books, the other two segments are challenging. The Defense Department is the main speed bump to mid-band auctions – which aren’t even planned yet – and to many of the high-band, millimeter wave assignments.

Like the weather, everyone complains about DoD’s voracious appetite for spectrum licenses, but nobody does anything about it. Ideally, we need to put DoD on a diet that will reward efficiency and practical sharing, but that’s easier said than done.

The recent word from DoD and 5G is a letter sent by Redl to the FCC on DoD’s wishes to significantly complicate use of the 37 and 50 GHz bands. Both industry and the FCC are not happy with the dance DoD wants them to perform. Chairman Pai advised that the auctions for 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands are now scheduled for December regardless.

FCC’s Bold Moves

Chairman Pai emphasized the importance of 5G for precision agriculture as well as the broader needs of rural America, stressing US leadership in 5G. He laid out his three part “5G Fast Plan”, covering spectrum, siting, and backhaul.

One part of the fast plan that I’m proud of is the framework for siting rules recommended by BDAC. Rural is always a story of funding, so a new pot of money – $20B – for rural networks is naturally part of the FCC plan. This is going to help a lot.

The FCC’s major role is spectrum, but towers and small cells are within its purview as well. Infrastructure is going to play a big part in the 5G migration, so it got proper attention.

We’re still short on details, especially about mid-band. But anyone who’s been holding their breath for a government network is disappointed. That’s just not going to happen in the USA regardless of which political party controls the White House.