On Tuesday, September 4, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr announced a new proposal to promote 5G deployment. The order simplifies the process for states to pass laws to streamline small cell technology necessary for 5G. This is another step by the FCC to encourage innovation across the country.

What is 5G?

Unless you’re nerdy and interested in technology and innovation policy (guilty), 5G is probably a somewhat foreign idea. You’ve probably heard of 4G (which your smartphone uses now) or remember when the iPhone 3G launched back in 2008. From 1G through 5G, each represents a new generation of wireless technology with different transmission methods.

Unlike 4G and past wireless technologies which relied primarily on low bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, 5G uses a mix of low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum. This allows 5G to be up to 100x faster than 4G LTE. CTIA has a brief explainer that goes more in-depth on 5G technology.

The use of high-band spectrum means 5G shortwave frequencies don’t travel as far. This necessitates small cell technology at shorter intervals than tradition cell towers.

As explained by Anderson Sullivan at CTIA, small cell installations as used in 5G deployment consist of, “small radio equipment and antennas that can be placed on structures such as streetlights, the sides of buildings, or poles.” Because of their small size (about the same size as a pizza box) and lack of need for tall towers, small cells can be installed in 92 minutes.

Regulatory Roadblocks

Like many new technologies, government at all levels has stood in the way of a service in demand by the market. Not only is federal government interference to blame, but also the regulatory patchwork of different states’ differing regulations. 

Without updating state regulations, only large cities like New York and Chicago will see 5G deployment in the near future. These new guidelines would encourage enough additional small cells to bring 5G service to an additional 1.8 million people and businesses

This plan would limit fees able to be placed on 5G infrastructure by state and municipal governments, impose “shot clocks” on those governments for timely 5G deployment, and provide technological guidance to state legislatures and regulators. The FCC has set out not to regulate 5G deployment for states, but give state legislatures a framework for allowing the technology to flourish.

Why does it matter?

Driverless cars, connected homes, and 4K video streaming all rely on 5G. This new plan would encourage $2.4 billion in 5G infrastructure investment and cut $2 billion in unnecessary regulatory costs. Cell service providers like AT&T and Verizon are planning to deploy 5G by the end of the year in select markets, most of which are large cities.

Internet users across the country demand and would pay for faster internet service. However, the patchwork of laws concerning 5G among different states are preventing connectivity in rural and suburban communities. Modernizing, simplifying, and normalizing 5G regulations across the country would help close the digital divide.

Unlike other attempts to close the digital divide by subsidizing broadband, this plan by the FCC is a market-based solution. Moving forward, other federal agencies could use this FCC proposal as a framework for standardizing regulations without over regulating already-burdened industries.

5G is the future of telecommunications, and could be the present if bureaucrats modernize regulations. The FCC will vote to approve this plan at their September 26 Open Meeting.

Eddie Stamper

Eddie is a Huntington, West Virginia native, but now lives in the Washington, DC area working in digital marketing for a nonprofit. While working in the public policy space, Eddie became interested in technology and innovation policy.

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