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FCC puts 5G at the heart of competitive telecoms policy

Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler © FCC

  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler commits to 5G
  • “It is time for a fresh start; a start that leads to national leadership in 5G”
  • US 5G spectrum decision due this summer
  • “Competition, competition, competition”

Speaking at the INCOMPAS Policy Summit yesterday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler reaffirmed that American leadership in 5G is a national priority, citing Intel research that the number of connected smart devices is going to increase from 15 billion in 2015 to 200 billion in 2020. He also told attendees that the FCC is preparing to designate spectrum for 5G this summer, with technology trials already underway.

INCOMPAS, incidentally, was formerly known as Comptel, the trade association for competitive networks in the US, and advocates for laws and policies that promote competition, innovation and economic development.

“Because 5G will be the first mobile technology to add the use of millimetre wave spectrum at scale, wireless signals will travel shorter distances,” Wheeler told his audience at the summit. “This means that 5G cell sites will be much more densely located than traditional networks. We will see a proliferation of new cell sites requiring expanded backhaul capacity – and backhaul is a Business Data Service. Without a healthy BDS market, we put at risk the enormous opportunity for economic growth, job creation and US competitiveness that 5G represents.

Business Data Service – or “special access” as it was once known – is of great interest to the competitive carrier sector in the US. The market is worth around $25 billion a year for high-capacity data and voice connections for businesses, yet according to the FCC, competitive carriers (including cable companies) reached less than 45 per cent of locations where there is demand. What’s more only 25 per cent used only their own networks.

Last week, chairman Wheeler proposed reforming the market by recommending a new regulatory framework, creating a more technology-neutral approach. He reiterated his plan to the policy summit audience, adding that “cable’s presence continues to grow but it is clear that there are locations that do not benefit from competition – and competition differs among products, with more competition for higher bandwidth services, but less for lower bandwidth services.”

National leadership in 5G

Returning to his 5G focus, Wheeler said that the US led the world in the development and deployment of 4G LTE networks and the payoff was the creation of hundreds of thousands of new US jobs. “American technology and software are at the heart of networks around the world and American apps are on devices around the world as a result of our 4G leadership,” said Wheeler. “5G presents a new opportunity for US leadership that promises similar if not greater benefits.”

Wheeler deftly used the occasion to set out his vision for 5G and role that the US should play in its global development – which is accelerating far faster in Asia and parts of Europe. He said that we live in a world in which the regulatory decisions we make today shape the reality that will exist years from now, and in a world that will be increasingly wireless, the US must be a world leader.

“That means we must have adequate spectrum – something we are addressing in the Incentive Auction and this summer’s 5G spectrum decision,” said Wheeler. “That also means we must have open networks that invite innovation – something we have seen as venture capital Internet-related investment soared 35 per cent post-Open Internet order. And that means the Business Data Service connectivity among 5G cell sites must be fast and fair – something addressed in this month’s rulemaking.

“So, yes, it is time for a fresh start,” he concluded. “A start that leads to national leadership in 5G. A start structured on a level playing field for all providers of similar services. A start that re-energises the analogue-to-digital transitions. A start that reduces consumer costs and increases consumer choices. I guess that re-start could be summed up in three words: competition, competition, competition.”

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