How agencies can make the most of oncoming 5G technology

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We’ve been hearing about 5G telecommunications for so long, you think it’s everywhere. Well, it is and it isn’t, but eventually it will be up and running. And now’s the time agencies ought to be planning for how to both foster and use this technology. Progressive Policy Institute economist Michael Mandel, and Vice Chair of the National Spectrum Consortium Randy Clark joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to share more.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: All right. So you two organizations have teamed up to produce a report basically on the economic benefits of 5G technology. And tell us what you basically found here because, frankly, I found the numbers of jobs that you are reporting that will be created a little hard to believe, actually.

Michael Mandel: Hard to believe, why do you find them hard to believe? No, let me just actually sort of say that the National Spectrum Consortium came to the Progressive Policy Institute, because we do a lot of work and growth and innovation and economic impacts of new technology. And they asked us to look ahead into the future and come up with a projection about what the impact of 5G is. If we’re saying a little bit of what 5G is, let me just sort of roll back a little bit. You know, wireless has been around for a long time. And we’ve had a couple of different waves of wireless driven jobs. Wave 1 was actually the construction of the wireless networks themselves, which added about 200,000 jobs. Wave 2, which started in roughly about 2007, with the advent of the iPhone, was basically built around uses of wireless to create what we call the app economy. And the app economy generated over 2 million jobs, okay, between 2007 and 2019. Randy?

Randy Clark: I’m going to kind of dovetail on the comments you made just a moment ago. If you think of 1G, 2G – it was really about voice communications. If you think of 2G and 3G, to Dr. Mandel’s point, it was really about humans interacting with applications. And that drove a lot of economic value in the U.S. and created companies and services that were not recognizable 10 years earlier. 5G is a revolution not an evolution in the technology. 5G is truly about application-to-application communication without human interface. That’s automation, right, because of true 5G is a virtualized 5G core and a virtualized RAN, when we add a high-speed, low-latency data communications with millimeter wave and edge compute, we’re creating the perfect storm for automation. There is going to be second- and third-order effects of implementing these new communication backbones into our economy.

Tom Temin: And if you would, just give us an update on where the whole thing stands. What is the status of the 5G build out, advertising aside? and I know it interacts with the available spectrum and different bands, too, which are not totally out there yet, either. So just give us the picture.

Michael Mandel: There’s really three things to think about. One is the networks themselves, which are well in process of being built out, and in fact, are creating – the build out itself is creating jobs. One of the things that we did in this report is we did a deep dive into the current build out, and the build out is creating about 100,000 jobs right now. Then there’s the devices which, as you say, are on the way. And it’s not just consumer devices, but it’s enterprise level devices, it’s IoT devices, it’s military devices, it’s the devices that goes into smart infrastructure into utilities, into all sorts of – into agriculture, into manufacturing to all sorts of areas. And then there’s the jobs that are created on top of those, the applications. So this is the process where we are at this point where the networks are being built out, the devices are right around the corner right now. And then what we’ll follow very soon after is the applications and the job creation, which is what we talked about in this report, and is very important, both to the private sector and the public sector.

Randy Clark: I was just going to address the original question of the state of the network build and you mentioned different frequencies, right? 5G is different because it’s a wireless protocol that operates independent of the radio frequency. So we have Sub-6, which are the traditional low band frequencies used by LTE. We have mid-band spectrum that, you know, recent FCC auctions with CBRS at 3.5, the DoD releasing 3.45 to 3.55, to provide more mid-band spectrum to the US market. And then we have the millimeter wave spectrum set – 20, 24, 28, 39GHz – all of these spectrum bands have different propagation and attenuation characteristics. Low band travel farther, higher bands millimeter wave don’t travel quite as far. However, the bandwidth of the channel size is inversely proportional. So low band have narrow bandwidth and high band have wide bandwidth. The bandwidth is the size of the channel that allows the data to go through. So the bigger the pipe, the more data. Disruption will happen in mid and high band because those channel widths are higher. It’s easy to build a 5G network in low band and call it a national network. And it’s true 5G, it’s using a 5G protocol, but you’re not getting the advantages and the speed and the throughput and the latency in those areas. However, it is 5G. We’ll see really disruptive things happen in mid band when the channel size opens up. You still get very good propagation and attenuation characteristics out of mid band, not quite as much as low band. And then 5G will be that mission critical industrial use cases or fixed wireless access use cases that’s truly disruptive, because those channels are very wide and is in very low latency. The higher up in band you go the more infrastructure you need, the small cells and the fiber to support that. That takes investment that takes time. You’ll see millimeter wave instances starting to happen in mission critical instances to support those use cases. But to Dr. Mandel’s point, the infrastructure build will go on for a long time, certainly a decade. And as we approach 6G and we get into even additional densification in the future and different use cases in 6G, the second- and third-order effects of the application ecosystem, and how that autonomy actually drives the creation of new processes and systems and integration techniques is where our economy truly is going to shift into the fourth industrial revolution.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Randy Clark, he’s vice chair of the National Spectrum Consortium, and with Dr. Michael Mandel, the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute. And let’s talk about the government in this because as I see it, the government has two kinds of roles here, maybe a third. One is how it will position itself to take advantage of all of these new technologies and bandwidths and speeds and Internet of Things topics? And the other is how can it foster this in the greater economy? And I guess maybe the third piece is keeping it all secure with not Huawei and ZTE gear being the backbone of all of it.

Michael Mandel: Well, let’s start with the – your first one, which is the government’s role in using 5G because people don’t usually talk about that. We think about the government as not a following here, but as a leader in use of 5G, both on the civilian and the military side, and both on the federal level and on the state and local level. Because, you know, up to this point, the government has not been a big user of wireless in terms of implementing its basic duties. And the 5G, as Randy discusses, offers a lot of different capabilities that can be suited to different types of uses. Some of them are low power, some of them are sort of low latency, and high bandwidth. And there’s a wide variety of applications. Randy, I don’t know if you want to sort of say anything about any of the government applications in particular?

Randy Clark: It’s about connectivity, and it’s about communication, and it’s about providing services, right? And applications have become kind of the center of our interface to information. So you’re going to see applications that drive, you know, more efficient supply chain, with 3D printing or additive manufacturing at the edge and the need for 5G, high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless connectivity to those 3D printers to send printing formats for retooling, as an example. You’re going to see the distribution of high-def video cameras for object detection become pretty commonplace, right? How do we clear a flight line to ensure that no obstructions are on the flight line that could affect the aircraft? That requires, a manual sweeping of the flight line or a police call today, but we’ll be able to do that through automation in 5G to identify and go right to the source. You’ll think about automation and robotics. You know, robots are very good at doing a mundane task repetitively, so I can get a robot to draw a perfect circle 1,000 times in a row. I cannot get a human to draw one perfect circle. However, robots today are not very good at locomotion, right? Humans are very good at locomotion. So you’ll see this augmentation of robotic platforms in humans, leveraging the best of those qualities to create a high efficiency and to remove humans from high risk occupations. So the use cases are endless.

Tom Temin: And of course, the government has had policies in place on the auctioning of spectrum to try to foster 5G. Is there anything further on the policy standpoint that government could do now to bring about this brave new world of robots and people drawing circles around one another?

Randy Clark: There’s a lot of policy reform that’s needed, right? Anytime there’s these big shifts, you have to look at legacy policy. Is it outdated? Is it useful? How do we reform it to adapt to this new environment?

Tom Temin: Randy Clark is vice chair of the National Spectrum Consortium. Nice to have you on.

Randy Clark: Been my pleasure, thank you.

Tom Temin: Dr. Michael Mandel is chief economic strategist at Progressive Policy Institute. Thanks for joining me.

Michael Mandel: Thank you.

Tom Temin: Find this interview at www.FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Hear the Federal Drive on demand and on your device. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.

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