5G technology: it’s coming--and so are its ensuing technologies. Using ultra-reliable, low latency communications, 5G will grow and spread the number of internet-connected devices, impacting the country’s businesses, schools and overall economy. Marc Leh, Senior Consultant with Corner Alliance, agrees:
“The proliferation of IoT applications and services is going to be a real game changer in the quality of applications that users see and the intelligence that businesses use.”
For federal agencies, this will allow them to better automate processes, communicate more efficiently, and receive real-time intelligence--essential tools in areas like emergency response or public safety.
These are some key ways that 5G will affect the government; but, how can the government affect 5G? With a technology that promises to affect nearly every internet-connected device and industries across the world, what can the federal government do to prepare and to support it?
Leverage Public-Private Partnerships
Tech CEOs and U.S. officials should convene with a focus on national 5G infrastructure that, to date, has been led by private companies — i.e., Verizon. Through public-private partnerships, the federal government can leverage companies’ knowledge of and financial resources for 5G, helping successfully implement the technology across the country.
Traditionally, these public-private agreements were used primarily for infrastructure development--transport systems, water and sewage systems, equipping schools and hospitals. Since building its infrastructure is a first step towards implementation, leveraging this model could be especially impactful for 5G.
Arlington, Virginia, is a prime current example. The local, DC-area government is partnering with private carriers, like Verizon or T-Mobile, to start developing a physical system for 5G. They’re building small wireless facilities (SWF), small antennas that will be installed on utility poles or street lights in commercial areas. SWFs complement cell towers and help boost signal strength and download speeds--essentially enabling 5G throughout the city.
The public-private model for 5G is still in its infancy, though. According to Leh, many questions regarding public-private partnerships and, certainly 5G’s infrastructure development, haven’t been answered yet. “[This] doesn’t exist at the scale you would consider to be truly operational,” he says.
Continue investing in 5G’s infrastructure--especially in rural areas
Whether it’s leveraging government funds or forming public-private partnerships, building out 5G’s physical infrastructure is a critical first step towards implementation. And rural areas, many of which already have spotty internet access, are especially a priority.
In rural America, private companies haven’t been able to invest in 5G’s development the same as in cities. It’s a cost-benefit issue: with less people and less usage, why spend the time and the money? With 39% of rural Americans already lacking access, lack of infrastructure could eventually cause serious issues like economic disparity and urban flight.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is helping address this through its ReConnect America Fund. RUS (one of our clients here at Corner Alliance) furnishes loans and grants to improve rural America’s broadband infrastructure. Rural businesses, tribes, municipalities and cooperatives may apply for the funding, giving some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas the chance to close their digital divide.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also providing funding--and $20.4 billion of it. In early April the FCC announced its plan to help bring high-speed, mobile access to rural communities in the US, awarding $2 billion in subsidies per year, over ten years, to build a physical infrastructural for broadband throughout rural America.
This continued investment can greatly help support 5G’s implementation throughout the nation--and help ensure rural America isn’t separated from the rest of the country.
These are just two current federal focus areas for 5G--but they are critically impactful. Through public-private partnerships and rural infrastructure development, the federal government can help rally the nation around a technology that will revolutionize the way we do business and communicate as a society.
As 5G starts to spread throughout the country, the government’s role will remain important to its growth. And, ultimately, its future.