Implement 5G as Soon as Possible

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the importance of implementing 5G as soon as possible in the United States. How we get there is currently the topic of much debate.

Up to twenty times faster than 4G, this next-generation mobile communications system is expected to bring $2.7 trillion to the U.S. GDP by 2030, according to a recent study by Michael Mandel. However, this will only happen if it quickly becomes operational. Economists have calculated that each year the roll-out is delayed could cost the US economy $50 billion in GDP.

That enormous cost of delay is largely because developing 5G is a global race. Numerous countries have begun testing the technology, including South Korea, the UK, Germany, and China. U.S. mobile operators and hardware manufacturers are hustling as well, as they know what’s at stake: one of the biggest economic, technological, and social catalysts of the 21st century.

One crucial element to getting 5G up and running is access to radio spectrum. Unlike many other countries, spectrum allocations in the United States make the 3400-3700 MHz band unavailable to terrestrial operators for mobile services. Therefore, 500 MHz of spectrum between 3700 and 4200 MHz referred to as “C-band,” with its low-latency and bad weather protection, provides ideal conditions for deploying 5G technology across the continental United States. The difficulty comes in when you look at the current use of that spectrum and see that it’s all extensively used for satellite distribution of programming to television and radio broadcasters, as well as cable and telecommunications operators. The satellite operators that currently operate in this spectrum, however, have proposed a way to clear a portion of the band for 5G operations without disrupting the video and audio programming that more than 100 million U.S. households enjoy.

The C-Band Alliance, known as the CBA, was created last year by the four satellite operators who make up almost all of the revenue-generating C-band usage in the U.S. These operators decided to be proactive in the spectrum-clearing process to ensure their customers’ service would be protected. The CBA approached the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a market-based proposal designed to quickly complete this extremely complex task. Despite being market competitors, the satellite operators have come together for this purpose, which is critical given their shared use of the spectrum. Under the CBA proposal, they have agreed to clear 200 MHz, buy and launch new satellites, and cover the costs of the transition of affected customers and earth station operators.

The CBA proposal allows both protecting existing spectrum and clearing it for a speedy 5G roll out. It is the only plan which protects the trillion dollar industry of broadcasting and the interests of millions of television and radio consumers in the US. It is the only plan which develops a detailed process for the necessary transition and ensures that the transition costs are covered. It reduces the historical auction timelines by half and addresses the needs of rural America for high-powered broadband connectivity.

Nevertheless, the proposal is the subject of criticism. Some say that 200 MHz is not enough, and the CBA should be able to free up more spectrum. Yet clearing two-fifths of the capacity would be no easy feat; this number was defined after careful analysis and confirmation that current customers would be protected and not kicked off the satellites. Fibre networks cannot replace satellites, they only cover a small part of the population and are largely far more costly than satellite transmissions.

Other critics would prefer that the FCC itself manage an auction to divide up the C-band, partly because they believe the proceeds should go to the government and not to private companies. These critics miss another decisive point, and that is that speed is of the essence in the 5G roll-out. Delay under a government auction would be huge. The repurposing of the C-band cannot be caught in complicated government processes—only a free and fair play of market forces will guarantee quick results.

The CBA members have invested billions of dollars over decades into the provision of valuable services into the United States over the C-band spectrum, and it cannot be cleared without further investment if existing customers are to enjoy service continuity. This is why the CBA asks for support in this endeavor, and for the proposal as it stands to be approved.