5G’s segmentation may create another digital divide
Over the past year, supercomputers and artificial intelligence, fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccines and cloud-based tools have kept many of us working and learning remotely. Yet there are still millions of people in underserved communities who do not have the affordable broadband access needed for teleworking, telehealth and distance learning.
The impetus for the introduction of 5G and broadband in rural areas in the United States is strengthened by new legislative initiatives, including the Biden administration American work plan, congressional proposals such as LIFT America Act and state-level efforts to expand broadband access, such as Senate Bill 5 and House 5 in Texas. This is a positive boost for the country, but it will only get there without an open 5G network infrastructure to ensure digital inclusion for all – and US competitiveness on the world stage. We now need to invest in 5G infrastructure to help us scale nationally.
To realize the potential of 5G to revolutionize industries and stimulate the economy, we need to rethink how networks should be built. This means moving from a legacy telecommunications infrastructure to a new ecosystem made up of the US IT, cloud and telecommunications industries, working together to create a modern wireless networking platform that is virtual, software-defined, open and automated. This will allow us to build for the future and create good jobs that promote justice.
Building an innovative ecosystem
So far, efforts to develop a 5G network have been fragmented, with many regions of our country not seeing the introduction of 5G at all. This could jeopardize the work of digital inclusion in our communities, limit economic development based on innovation, and put the United States at a disadvantage. Wide availability is also crucial for the high-tech industry, contributing to an open 5G ecosystem, which in turn will grow the digital economy.
Telecommunications companies are already investing heavily in their 5G networks, with $ 81 billion in spectrum at auction in January and billions more expected in new auction scheduled for October. But because companies are committed to major debt-financed spectrum purchases, they may lack the capital and incentives to build the infrastructure needed to ensure inclusion.
The real solution lies in investing in the modernization of basic digital infrastructure, devices and services focused on a modern open architecture for 5G, but the current industrial structure is not in line with this goal and the existing ecosystem to allow it is limited.
It is important to recognize that 5G is much more than just an evolution of 4G. As 5G has new technologies with higher performance in addition to more traditional wireless access, it has the potential to provide true mobile access with low latency at gigabit speeds. To achieve this, many additional cell towers are needed along with a complex network of virtual infrastructure. This will generate a 5G network that is easily accessible, especially for the communities that need it most.
In addition, the hardware components needed to create this ecosystem can and should be produced in the country. The public and private sectors have a shared responsibility to ensure network security, create well-paid jobs and avoid dependence on other countries.
This is a monumental project that can only be implemented with a higher level of public investment, both to provide infrastructure and to catalyze US ecosystems to deliver the necessary technology. We need investment from federal, state, and city governments, as well as a commitment to the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) standard to ensure that 5G networks are accessible to all.
Leading the US economy in the “data age”
In its current form, the United States risks falling behind other countries that are investing heavily in their own fast-paced 5G networks. We have the resources and talent to catch up and lead the world in 5G, but first the government and the private sector must work together to create a fundamental 5G wireless ecosystem in the United States.
We recently took a step in the right direction with adoption of bicameral legislation, led by strong bilateral support in both the Chamber and the Senate to secure funding for basic research and development of 5G infrastructure. This is a promising start, but more cooperation is needed to provide 5G access for every American and to support innovation in the United States.
Connectivity is an economic opportunity and the key to a diverse, competitive workforce. We must unite to ensure equal access to technology and improved connectivity that will ensure that everyone has the right to move the country forward.
John Rose is Chief Technology Officer at Dell Technologies.