A cellular phone tower. The Trump administration will soon auction more bandwidth to allow 5G wireless service (Jeff Roberson/AP)
The Trump administration and government regulators are expected to unveil a major push Friday afternoon at the White House to accelerate the rollout of the high-speed, next-generation mobile data technology known as 5G.
Under the plan, the Federal Communications Commission will release a wide swath of high-frequency airwaves for cellular use in what will be the largest trove of U.S. wireless spectrum ever to be auctioned off. As much as 3.4 gigahertz of so-called “millimeter-wave” spectrum could be sold to wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon in the sale, which will begin Dec. 10, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
The FCC also will propose a $20 billion fund to expand wireless broadband in rural America over the coming decade, connecting up to 4 million households and small businesses to high-speed Internet, said Pai. The so-called “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” could launch later this year after a period of public notice and comment.
Pai told reporters on a Friday morning conference call:
“We want to get this program stood up as soon as we can, because we recognize the need to close that digital divide in rural America,” .
The two proposals reflect the most intensive effort of the Trump era to close the so-called “digital divide” and gain an edge in the global race to build a fully functioning, nationwide 5G network. Proponents say the advances that 5G offers over 4G LTE will eventually enable mobile download speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second — roughly 100 times faster than the current standard — and pave the way for new technologies such as self-driving cars and virtual reality.
Despite his focus on auctioning spectrum, Pai’s critics say his 5G strategy has overlooked or even caused setbacks in other areas of policy.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, tweeted Friday:
“So far this Administration’s interventions on 5G have done more harm than good. From imposing tariffs on 5G equipment to alienating allies on 5G security to falling behind the rest of the world on critical mid-band spectrum, it has yet to offer a workable plan for US leadership.”
Friday’s announcement comes in the face of rising competition from China and other nations that are moving swiftly to develop 5G technology.
Last week, South Korea became the first country to switch on a nationwide 5G network as the country’s three wireless carriers announced the launch of their commercial service in 85 cities.
In the United States, Verizon last week said it had begun offering its 5G service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis.
The upcoming airwaves auction is not the first of the 5G era. Since Nov. 2018, the FCC has sold off more than 1.5 GHz in spectrum licenses for 5G, according to agency figures. The high-frequency waves are considered ideal for 5G because they can carry a great deal of data very reliably, albeit at the cost of range and the ability to penetrate walls and other obstacles.
Of the three chunks of millimeter waves to be sold in the upcoming auction, two — located in the 37 GHz and 47 GHz bands — are currently unoccupied, according to the FCC. The remaining chunk, in the 39 GHz band, is already controlled in some portions by AT&T and Verizon. On Friday, the FCC kicked off its process for designing the auction protocols in its monthly meeting.
The $20 billion broadband initiative, said Pai, would be funded using “repurposed” money from within the Universal Service Fund, a federal aid program that indirectly supports a wide range of subsidies, including low-income phone service, lower-cost broadband access for schools and libraries and rural broadband deployment. Only one USF program would be affected by the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the FCC said: Connect America Fund II, a broadband buildout program that last year held an auction to disburse $2 billion in infrastructure funding over 10 years. Money for the USF is raised by fees that carriers add to consumer phone bills.
Industry groups welcomed the twin announcements.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, in a statement:
“WISPA hails the intensified focus on bettering rural connectivity, which will help country farmers receive the same evolving level of broadband services and connectivity as city financiers."
Millimeter waves are not the only kind of airwaves suitable for 5G. Carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint have focused their 5G efforts on medium-frequency, or mid-band, airwaves, and have made it a centerpiece of their argument for a $26 billion merger. Mid-band spectrum offers less capacity than the higher-band alternatives, but can cover greater distances.
Pai said Friday he is committed to making airwaves of all types a priority.
Pai was among a group of U.S. officials who, at an industry conference in February, pressured allies to stop using wireless networking gear from Chinese firms such as Huawei over fears that the equipment could enable Chinese eavesdropping. In the meetings, the Trump administration’s European partners largely acknowledged the risk but disagreed with the U.S. delegation on how to mitigate the threat.
1: "To Trump, 5G is 1/250th of the estimated number of dollars required to hush up a porn star."
2: Washington Post Headline: Critical weather data threatened by FCC ‘spectrum’ proposal, Commerce Dept. and NASA say. Yes, these frequencies are being stolen from weather forecasts, a matter of public safety, and given to 5G- ATT, Verizon, etc.
3: This whole rush to install 5g networks has shades of the 737 Max debacle. It appears to be another rush to maximize profits without thought to consequences.
Back in the day, prior to the coming of fiber optics, terrestrial microwave systems carried the vast majority of long distance phone calls. I worked as a consultant on projects related to those systems. The radio engineers always warned us never to get in front of an active antenna because the radiated frequencies (RF) are very dangerous. Those systems operated in the 5 to 9 GHz range. At close range pulsed, data-modulated, Radio-frequency Electromagnetic Microwave Radiation exposures (RF-EMR) can cause burns and over long term RF-EMR can cause serious cellular damage including inducing cancers. Several engineers have told me that in their opinion, living within 1,5000 feet of current cell towers can be dangerous, especially for children. There is also a good deal of anecdotal information that installers working around live systems are developing rare and ugly cancers.
Now,we have the move to 5G without any real health and safety studies. Current 4G systems operate at 700 MHz to 2100 MHz. The 5G systems are going to require a far greater density of antennas and much higher frequencies of 37,000 MHz to 47,000 MHz.
Simply stated, the higher the frequency the more energy and by extension more danger. The new plans will attempt to increase antenna density by attaching antennas to virtually anything; towers, utility poles, street lights, commercial buildings and I am sure residential condos and houses. The effect is that entire communities are going to be saturated with powerful RF-EMR from every direction.
In 5 or at most 10 years, after the new 5G systems are in full service, and I might add when we are all even more dependent on our electronic devices, we will find ourselves in a mass cancer epidemic. Again, stock holders will be getting ever richer while our children are getting cancers. Before we plunge into another good idea with ugly externalized costs, I implore the Federal Government to do serious health studies first.
4: I, personally, can vouch for the dangers of just about any RF signals. I spent several years as an engineer in commercial radio. That included going up to the base of towers, throwing switches BY HAND, to verify the amount of current going through each tower.
Some 20 years after finding another vocation I developed Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma on my right hand. A really unusual situation the oncologist said. Weeks of intense radiation seemed to eliminate it.
15 years after that I developed Lymphoma on my left hand. Same opinions and treatment. Yet nowhere else on my body have I had such tumors. There is definitely somthing to worry about with RF energy. Especially as the wavelengths approach the microwave range.
5: I think this is all just marketing, because it gets peoples’ attention. The first primary application for 5G is to provide wireless "drops" from the pole to people’s houses for internet and video uses. It’s more economical than using coaxial cable when you factor in the maintenance. It also gets around certain licensing arrangements that have gotten in the way of telcos becoming an alternative to traditional CATV. The Telcos see loads of revenue in being a supplier of internet and video.
6: The FCC also will propose a $20 billion fund to expand broadband in rural America over the coming decade, What’s the mechanism to fund this program? It works out to about $2 billion a year. Telecom’s are some of the most profitable businesses/companies we have. Making their money on what used to be "public airwaves". Hopefully the Telecom’s will be footing the bill rather than FCC going to Congress to pay it from the General Fund which is now sporting $1 trillion annual deficits.