June 27, 2019

The Importance of 5G


  • The fifth generation wireless systems, known as 5G, could be up to 100 times faster than 4G and will power the “Internet of Things,” including telemedicine and autonomous vehicles.
  • The country that leads the world in the adoption of 5G technology will have a distinct technological, economic, and national security advantage over other countries.
  • National security implications of 5G include how the spectrum will be shared by government and the private sector and how to deal with equipment made by Chinese companies.

The fifth generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, is in the process of being designed and deployed. The United States led the world in the adoption of 4G networks, and the benefits over the past decade have been tremendous. From 2011 to 2014, when 4G was launching, jobs related to the wireless industry grew 84%. Today, the industry supports 4.7 million jobs and contributes $475 billion to the economy each year.

As a result of leading the world in 4G adoption, U.S. companies were able to drive industry standards and bring innovative products and services to market. American families, our economy, and our national security benefitted greatly. The country that leads the way on 5G is likely to enjoy similar advantages. Companies and countries across the globe have recognized this, and a global “race to 5G” is ongoing, with the United States and China leading the way.


Spectrum basics

Spectrum refers to the radio frequencies used to communicate over the airwaves. A public resource, it is managed by the FCC and is most often made available for commercial use via an auction. Successful 5G deployment will require a mix of high, mid, and low-band spectrum.  

Millimeter wave spectrum operates in high frequencies. It has a shorter wavelength than bands currently used for 4G networks and is less congested. It can carry massive amounts of data at high speeds with very low latency – the delay before data can be transferred on a network. However, it carries a signal for much shorter distances than mid or low-band spectrum and can have trouble penetrating buildings and other solid objects. All of the major carriers are deploying mmWave spectrum as part of their 5G efforts in the U.S.

Lower band spectrum below 6GHz, known as “sub-6” spectrum, is used for many purposes due to its longer range. The Department of Defense has operated in this spectrum range for some time and currently uses it for unmanned aerial vehicles, radar, communications, and some Navy ships. While the rest of the world is using this sub-6 spectrum for 5G, the United States is using a mix of spectrum. Research is underway to see if both DOD and non-military equipment can operate together in the sub-6 spectrum for 5G.

Why is 5G needed?

The spectrum used for mobile communications is becoming congested. Current networks cannot always meet consumer demands for data. During periods of heavy use, consumers may experience slow speeds, unstable connections, delays, or loss of service. The effects can range from annoyances like a streaming movie freezing to life-threatening transmission delays between first responders in an emergency.

The demand for data will continue to grow as the number of devices connected to the internet grows. The number of smartphone users in the United States has increased from nearly 63 million in 2010 to an estimated 238 million in 2018. In 2018 there were 17.8 billion connected devices globally, 7 billion of which were connected devices such as smart home equipment. By 2025 the total number of connected devices is projected to exceed 34 billion.

Industries and consumers will rely on 5G networks to power the devices and transmit the data that drive their daily activities. They will need networks that can provide constant connections, minimal lag times, increased bandwidth to access and share data, and the ability to quickly compile and compute data.

In the health care sector, 5G could enable services such as remote patient monitoring, consultation, and even remote surgery. In transportation, 5G will be the backbone that autonomous vehicles rely on. A 2017 study from Deloitte estimated, “self-driving cars enabled by wireless connectivity could reduce emissions by 40-90%, travel times by nearly 40% and delays by 20%.”

5G Blows Away 4G


Source: Android Authority

national security considerations

The shift to 5G also will have a significant effect on overseas U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic activities. The ability to transmit massive amounts of data with very low latency will affect the battles and weapons of the future. 5G enabled systems could help improve situational awareness for military leaders as they make critical decisions. As the Department of Defense begins to use these new capabilities, it is important that the military can operate in any environment, including networks that may not be secure.

5G networks present national security risks. If networks in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere are built primarily by Chinese vendors, DOD and the State Department would face risks while operating on those networks.

The government of China is supporting the deployment of 5G infrastructure as part of its ambitious “Made in China 2025” plan. China’s stated goal is to lead the world in innovation and advanced manufacturing. It aims to subsidize the deployment of 5G domestically, improve its technology, and become a leading supplier of telecommunications equipment to the world.

A major part of this plan is the Chinese technology company Huawei. Aided greatly by subsidies from the Chinese government, Huawei grew its global revenues from $28 billion in 2009 to $107 billion in 2018. It has aggressively pursued business beyond China and in 2018 held 28% of the global telecom equipment market. Huawei’s products are deployed in more than 170 countries and serve more than a third of the world’s population.

National security experts and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have expressed concern that data on 5G networks built with Huawei technology is inherently unsecure. Chinese tech firms are required to give the Chinese government “technical support and assistance” in the interest of preserving national security. The government could require Huawei to place back doors in their products, divert traffic to China, or otherwise intercept or access data on the network.

Last year, the heads of six U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee that they would not advise Americans to use Huawei products or services. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added in a February interview that the U.S. cannot cooperate with nations that use Huawei’s telecom equipment. “If a country adopts this [technology] and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them,” he said. “We’re not going to put American information at risk.” 

Current actions

The United States is employing a market-based approach to 5G, with private providers competing against one another using different strategies and different bands of the wireless spectrum. U.S. companies were the first in the world to offer 5G services commercially, and numerous locations are expected to have it deployed by 2020. This general approach was successful in the deployment of 4G, and has been supported on a bipartisan basis by the past four presidents. The Trump administration has supported 5G deployment, making spectrum available for 5G and streamlining the processes for placing the small cells needed to power it in dense environments.

To help protect American systems from the threats related to 5G, the Fiscal Year 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the U.S. government from procuring any equipment, system, or service that uses Huawei parts or components. In May, President Trump signed an executive order banning American companies from using any telecom equipment that the secretary of commerce declares to be a national security risk. The Commerce Department has added Huawei to its “entity list,” which bars Huawei from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without prior approval from the department.  

To ensure rural America is not left behind, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his intention to create a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that will extend high-speed internet to 4 million homes and small businesses.

A bipartisan group of senators led by Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker recently introduced the 5G Leadership Act. The legislation would establish a national policy to securely deploy commercial 5G networks and create a special fund of up to $700 million to help U.S. telecom providers remove certain Chinese products from their networks.