Since Ajit Pai became chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he has pressed for the United States to lead in fifth-generation wireless deployment. Just last month, he joined with others in the Trump administration to hold a 5G summit where they touted the importance of the United States paving the way for 5G. While a key aspect of the chairman’s agenda is getting additional spectrum in the hands of mobile wireless providers, it is important we don’t lose sight of the fact that he also is trying to solve the other piece of the 5G puzzle – facilitating fiber builds to all the new small-cell sites.
5G networks will offer consumers gigabit speeds with more reliable, stronger connections. But to make this happen, 5G requires not only access to spectrum that enables high throughput service, but also connections to dense, high capacity fiber networks. The aim of all 5G providers will be to ensure that once transmissions are “out of the air” they are “into the ground” quickly to their destination using critical and reliable fiber networks.
And, of course, as macro-cell sites turn into small-cell sites for 5G, the need to facilitate the deployment of fiber becomes even more important. Instead of connecting to a single cell tower, which can potentially serve a 10 square mile area, fiber will now need to go to approximately 10, 20, or even 100 times that number of small cell sites, each serving a limited area. The Fiber Broadband Association estimates that 5G will require the deployment of about 1.4 million miles of fiber in just the top 25 urban areas in the United States All of which means, we have entered into an era where we need to enable all sorts of fiber providers to deploy as expeditiously as possible and at reasonable cost.
Building 5G networks will be a monumental infrastructure project, but the benefits are vast. 5G is expected to have a tremendous impact on the economy. According to a recent Accenture report, 5G is projected to create 2.2 million jobs, and approximately $420 billion in annual gross domestic product, across communities throughout the United States
Our 5G future also will include more connected cities and technologies like autonomous vehicles, augmented/virtual reality devices, infrastructure sensors for smart transportation and public safety applications, and airborne drones.
But 5G and smart cities can only become a reality for all Americans if there is enough fiber infrastructure to support them. Deloitte Consulting recently reported that the United States will require an estimated $130 billion to $150 billion in fiber investment over the next five to seven years to adequately support broadband competition, rural coverage and wireless deployments for future network technologies such as 5G.
Along with new fiber investments, policymakers need to remove regulatory hurdles so it is easier to deploy fiber. Thankfully the FCC has already taken steps to remove unnecessary barriers to innovation. Just this summer, FCC Chairman Pai paved the way for the adoption of the One-Touch-Make-Ready rule, which will make it easier to attach equipment to telephone poles and help propel fiber broadband deployment throughout the country.
But there is still work to do to make the United States the global leader in 5G. So as we look ahead to the next generation of wireless network technologies and smart cities, policymakers at all levels of government and industry need to work together to ensure that there is plenty of fiber broadband infrastructure available for the United States to lead on 5G.
Lisa R. Youngers is the president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.
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