Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., June 20, to create enthusiasm for upcoming 5G technologies and to cheerlead proposed rules for 5G that Wheeler will circulate to the commission—a group of five, firmly split down partisan lines—on June 23.
“The interconnected world we live in today is the result of decisions we made a decade ago. The interconnected world of the future will be the result of decisions we must make today,” said Wheeler, noting that the proposal will be called Spectrum Frontiers and the FCC will vote on it July 14.
Reaching a majority vote will be no easy feat, and Wheeler publically worked to rally both awe and patriotism, likening the nation’s upcoming embrace of 5G—which is “damn important,” as it will make U.S. companies “first out of the gate,” said Wheeler—to John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put an American on the moon.
“Once again, we are looking to the sky to unlock new discoveries and unleash American ingenuity,” he said. “We are the pioneers of a new spectrum frontier. Working together, we can write the next chapter in the mobile revolution that has already transformed our lives and society.”
Wheeler called the proposal the “final piece in the spectrum trifecta of low-band, mid-band and high-band airways that will open up unprecedented amounts of spectrum, speed the rollout of next-generation wireless networks, and redefine network connectivity for years to come.”
Low-band spectrum is optimal for wide-area coverage applications, and the current incentive auction is making more of it available. Mid-band spectrum—the Jan Brady, (the middle daughter in the mid-20th century “The Brady Bunch” TV show) of the spectrum world, per Wheeler—has critical characteristics that will enable an “order of magnitude increase in spectrum efficiency.”
And finally, high-band spectrum will open up enormous swaths of spectrum, for super-fast data rates with low latency. But while low band is great at penetrating buildings and making its way deep into apartments and offices, high band likes open spaces and is great at avoiding “obstacles” like office towers. That means new antennas will need to be developed to aim, reroute and amplify signals.
“To make this work, 5G build-out is going to be very infrastructure-intensive, requiring a massive deployment of small cells. But [it] also opens up unprecedented opportunities for frequency reuse and denser, more localized, networks,” said Wheeler.
What will 5G make possible? No one knows yet, and that’s the beauty of it, said Wheeler, proposing that innovation drive policy, and not the other way around. While other countries believe in studying what 5G should be, the United States wants to blaze a trail.
“Turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future. We won’t wait for the standards to be first developed in the sometimes arduous standards-setting process or in a government-led activity,” said Wheeler. “Instead, we will make ample spectrum available and then rely on private-sector-led process for producing technical standards best suited for those frequencies and use cases.”
While Verizon and AT&T are planning 5G trials for 2017, collaboration, even more than competition, will be in order, particularly between satellite and terrestrial wireless shareholders, said Wheeler, noting that the Spectrum Frontiers Order includes a solution to address the needs of both parties.
He added that the full benefits of 5G aren’t at all known yet and shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The main value of 5G will not be found in workshare or intellectual property. The main value of 5G by far will be in consumption rather than production. It will be in material gains and improvements in quality of life and economic opportunity. … It is a contest in which everyone can win,” Wheeler said. “Our success and that of others, redounds to the benefit—literally—of everyone in the world.”