U.S. to Invest $400 Million in 5G Wireless Research

The Obama administration and NSF will partner with Intel, Oracle, AT&T, Verizon and others to accelerate innovation around advanced wireless networks.


The Obama administration is launching a $400 million initiative to drive research into advanced wireless technologies that officials say will bring 100 times the speed of current 4G LTE networks, a move that comes a day after federal regulators voted to open more U.S. airwaves to 5G wireless networks and applications.

The $400 million Advanced Wireless Research Initiative (AWRI) will be led by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and is only one of several government-led efforts unveiled July 15 that are designed to accelerate the development of lightning-fast, low-latency wireless, high-capacity networks throughout the country and drive innovation around such emerging markets as self-driving cars, virtual reality (VR), smart cities and the Internet of things (IoT). They also will make devices likes smartphones significantly faster.

At the same time, the administration and government agencies will be working with a broad array of tech industry players—including top-tier carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile USA, and such tech vendors as Oracle, Intel, Qualcomm, Juniper Networks and Samsung—on a number of these initiatives, continuing the public-private partnerships that the government has leveraged in driving the adoption of 4G networks.

The wireless and tech industries worldwide and in a growing number of countries are moving quickly on 5G, even though the standards for the next-generation broadband technology are not expected until 2020. According to the Obama administration, more than 98 percent of U.S. residents today are covered by 4G LTE, which was backed not only by government agencies but also almost $150 billion in investment by wireless operators since 2010.

More than 350 million smartphones, tablets and wearable devices are being used today in the United States—more than double the number a decade ago—and wireless networks are handling 100,000 times the traffic they were in 2008.

Now attention is quickly being turned to 5G, which will deliver speeds that are as much as 10 to 100 times faster than 4G. That will be important, given then trends that are putting increasing pressure on wireless networks for more speeds and greater capacity. According to Cisco Systems' most recent Visual Networking Index (VNI), IP traffic worldwide will increase 22 percent a year between 2015 and 2020, the number of Internet users will grow from 3 billion last year to 4.1 billion by 2020, and the number of new devices jumping onto these networks will hit 26.3 billion by the end of the decade. In 2020, there will be 3.4 devices and connections per capita, up from 2.2 last year.

In addition, Cisco is predicting that by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide that will make up the IoT. The adoption of cloud computing will grow, video increasingly will account for larger portions of network traffic, and users will continue to migrate from wired to wireless networks. AT&T officials have said that between 2007 and 2015 traffic of the carrier's wireless network grew more than 150,000 percent, a pace that they expect will quicken.

The development of 5G and future wireless technologies will be needed to address such trends. According to a statement by the Obama administration, with such new wireless capabilities, mobile devices will be able to download a full-length HD movie in less than five seconds, 100 times faster than 4G and 25,000 times faster than 3G. Other benefits will range from semi-autonomous or fully autonomous cars being able to communicate with the cloud and each other, better smart manufacturing equipment, Gigabit-speed wireless broadband availability in such places as businesses, schools, transportation stations and stadiums, virtual and augmented reality applications, and live, real-time video and sensor data from emergency vehicles and drones being available to emergency room doctors.