5G and Next Generation Wireless: Implications for Policy and Competition

5G networks will greatly expand wireless functionality, but need policymaker support to truly flourish.

The ongoing development of 5G wireless technologies represents a unique opportunity to radically expand the capacity and flexibility of wireless networks, which will have profound implications for broadband competition and productivity growth. Policymakers at the national and local level should support the development of next-generation “5G” wireless networks, primarily by ensuring new spectrum is available and by streamlining deployment of physical infrastructure.

Today’s 4G networks face three general challenges, providing the impetus to develop the 5G successor: the need to enhance mobile broadband with great capacity and reliability for consumers, the need for a network that can support massive deployment of the Internet of Things, and the need for a highly dependable network to support critical communications and public safety functions. 

In addressing these challenges, 5G will move beyond networks built only for mobile phones and toward networks that connect all kinds of devices. 5G delivers greatly increased capacity for broadband, but also far more numerous and less costly connections to support the growth of the Internet of Things. It will do so by relying on three main technologies as building blocks: large swaths of high-band spectrum, advanced antenna technologies, and more flexible networking software. 

In order to see 5G networks truly flourish, policymakers need to take action: 

First, at the national level, policymakers should focus first on bringing high-band “millimeter wave” spectrum to market, rather than attempting to control the standards-setting process. Here, the Federal Communications Commission is setting a good example, working to get high-band spectrum into the hands of innovators. 

Second, local governments should help streamline infrastructure deployment. Wired backhaul connections and small-cell siting will be key to the dense wireless networks of tomorrow. Municipalities should view 5G deployment as a cooperative effort, bringing additional connectivity to improve citizens’ lives and enhancing government services.