In his keynote speech at the CTIA Super Mobility conference in Las Vegas on September 7, 2016, Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) Chairman Tom Wheeler said that those in the wireless industry are “not just living history,” but also “writing it.” Focusing on the next generation of wireless technology known as 5G, Chairman Wheeler’s speech addressed both 5G’s potential and the challenges for its deployment, as well as how the FCC Chairman believes his agency should facilitate deployment.
Wheeler said that the number of wireless connections in the U.S. has surpassed the number of connections to the electric grid, and this wireless connectivity has transformed how hundreds of millions of people live their lives. He noted that users can now both consume and create information using wireless networks. Wireless networks have also removed limitations on location by bringing the network to the user, where users previously had to come to the network. Chairman Wheeler said that the removal of limitations on the speed of wireless networks will be the next step in wireless innovation, made possible through the deployment of 5G.
Chairman Wheeler cautioned that developments like 5G bring industry and market disruptions. While “continued vigilance” will be needed to ensure there is no diminution in competition, Chairman Wheeler suggested that the Commission continue to take a “light touch” approach to regulation.
Chairman Wheeler said that there are three keys for the FCC with respect to the development of 5G. The FCC must ensure (1) ample spectrum, (2) ample infrastructure and backhaul, and (3) removal of barriers to infrastructure siting.
On spectrum, Chairman Wheeler called for the FCC to make as much spectrum available as possible throughout the “spectrum trifecta,” meaning low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum. He noted the tremendous work done by the Commission to facilitate the ongoing broadcast incentive auction, which aims to make more low-band spectrum available. Chairman Wheeler also touted the “historic” success of the FCC’s AWS-3 auction in making more mid-band spectrum available, and praised the FCC for making high band spectrum available for 5G in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding within just nine months.
On infrastructure and siting, Chairman Wheeler discussed the need for additional infrastructure and backhaul suitable to support 5G. He said that 5G will require more connected small cells, and he called for more competition in the provision of backhaul, noting his goal to resolve the pending Business Data Services proceeding in the fall of this year. He also said that the wireless industry will not win over communities that are fighting the construction of more infrastructure with discussions about engineering. He said that these communities need to hear instead about smart cities and the improvements to education, healthcare, and employment brought by increased broadband connectivity. According to Chairman Wheeler, the FCC will need to devise creative approaches to siting and infrastructure to make 5G a reality.
Ultimately, Chairman Wheeler predicted that 5G would be an historic development in the history of wireless technology, and that it will be a “rising tide” that will raise all boats.