Emerging Technology

Envisioning America’s 5G Future

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IBM provides technology services and support for half the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, so we have seen firsthand how each generation of mobile wireless technology has been an engine of economic and social change. The basic voice capabilities of first-generation wireless networks made people reachable anytime and anyplace, redefining the nature of work and keeping friends and families in closer contact. Second-generation networks enabled text messages, altering how an entire generation of consumers communicates. Our 3G phones put the internet in our pockets. 4G networks created the “app economy” virtually overnight, providing a new career path for entrepreneurs and creating millions of jobs worldwide.

The next generation of mobile networks, 5G, holds similar promise. Trusted, secure 5G networks will be exponentially faster, boasting Gigabit speeds that far exceed the data demands of today’s common uses. It also has the capacity to connect billions of devices online, hastening the Internet of Things. The technology will bridge the gap between theory and practice, paving the way for driverless cars, smart cities, virtual and augmented reality, and healthcare innovations from telemedicine to robotics.

5G also will enable smarter, more powerful networks, allowing AI-powered devices to better understand the environment in which they operate and cloud computing systems to run more efficiently on mobile. And the benefits will not be confined to large corporations. The power and promise of 5G combined with cloud, AI and edge computing will transform the ways all of us live, play, work and deliver services. And that means new opportunities for an entirely new ecosystem of entrepreneurs and local businesses.

For IBM and our clients, 5G represents both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity to infuse intelligence and new capabilities into mobile networks is enormous. But the investment required by telecommunications providers to realize that potential is immense: Some estimates say 5G will require $2.4 trillion in worldwide capital investment between 2020 and 2030.

To support such massive investments, government regulators will need to create the right conditions to foster economic returns. In the United States, regulators have already begun paving the way, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designating large swaths of high-frequency airwaves for licensed and unlicensed 5G use. The FCC has also examined state and local regulations related to deployment of network equipment, and scheduled its first auction on 5G for this fall.

Like the technologies that preceded it, the return on 5G investments will materialize over time as carriers obtain spectrum licenses, purchase and deploy equipment, and begin selling new high-speed services. But the bigger economic impact will come from the long-term breakthroughs to which the networks will inevitably lead. It’s little wonder that many nations are devoting considerable resources to 5G. China is planning to spend $400 billion between now and 2020 on 5G and has already built some 350,000 cell sites to accommodate the network. South Korean wireless carriers announced plans to invest more than $9 billion in 2018 alone, with plans to have a nationwide network deployed by 2020. Japanese companies have pledged more than $45 billion over the next five years. The United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain have all held or planned 5G spectrum auctions for 2018.
At IBM, we will support common-sense policies to ensure 5G build-out, including working with regulators and governments to deploy 5G infrastructure that is trusted and secure, and getting spectrum into the hands of the carriers ready to put it to use.

It’s impossible to predict exactly what a 5G-powered world will look like. But much like 4G made ride-sharing, streaming, and mobile payments a reality, 5G will inspire groundbreaking innovation. IBM will work with governments, regulators, and clients worldwide to help make the 5G future a reality, and to usher this exciting new technology into the world responsibly – something we’ve done for over a century.

-Christopher A. Padilla, Vice President, IBM Government and Regulatory Affairs

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