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Imagine a future where nearly everything in the physical world is connected to ubiquitous, ultra high-speed wireless networks. Imagine cars that safely drive themselves, doctors that monitor patients’ vital signs remotely in real-time and communities that are smarter and more connected. Entire industries, from agriculture to transportation, will be transformed to be more capable, efficient and intelligent. 

Wireless connectivity already touches every aspect of daily life, but we are just scratching the surface. Sensors in smart cities will determine optimum traffic routing, easing congestion and helping protect the environment. Intelligent lighting will illuminate evacuation routes in buildings. Connected wheelchairs will increase users’ independence. This is the promise of the next generation of mobile networks, known as 5G.  

But the wireless industry needs the tools to build a new generation of networks. The good news is that the federal government is poised to take an important step toward this wireless future. This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will propose rules for freeing up spectrum that will be a crucial part of 5G. The FCC’s action, focused on high-band spectrum, will help set the stage for the wireless-driven transformation of our economy and nearly every facet of our lives.

Here’s why the FCC’s rulemaking is important and what it means for all of us. Today, thanks to billions in wireless investment, American engineering ingenuity, and a smart spectrum policy framework that recognizes the importance of licensed and unlicensed airwaves, the U.S. is a global leader in mobile. Carriers, large and small, in major urban centers and rural communities, blanketed the country with 4G LTE service. The speeds on our 4G LTE networks are increasing, prices are decreasing and usage is skyrocketing. 

But wireless networks depend on spectrum. High-band spectrum above 10 GHz offers the potential of increased speeds and greater capacity. That’s because of the technical characteristics of these airwaves and the possibility that this spectrum may be available in very large, contiguous blocks. Consider how a six-lane freeway can handle more traffic at greater speeds than a meandering country road. In the same way, larger spectrum blocks mean faster networks with greater capacities. 

This is important. Because as mobile traffic continues to explode – six-fold by the end of the decade – and as the Internet of Things drives a massive number of wireless devices online – estimates of 50 billion by 2020 – 5G technologies will complement existing wireless networks and enable us to propel this mobile revolution. 

Our 4G networks are fast. But 5G networks will be faster, with a throughput up to 50 faster. This will enable ultra HD video streaming, very fast downloads, and new video applications.  Faster speed may be the easiest to understand, but 5G will be much more. 4G latency rates – the technical term for the delay between your request for data and when your mobile device receives it – are low. 5G latency rates will be even lower – at least five times lower, as low as a 1-2 milliseconds. This will unlock real time video communications, autonomous vehicles and virtual telemedicine applications. 5G will also provide the scale to support tens of billions of sensors, wearables and beacons that will unlock new innovations and functionalities. 

That’s why the FCC’s action on high-band spectrum is so important. But realizing our 5G future will require much more than just high-band airwaves. These dramatic changes to the mobile ecosystem will require a broad range of spectrum bands, including low, mid and high band. That is why Congress’ parallel work to identify additional low- and mid-band spectrum for reallocation to commercial use is critical, and we hope Congress acts this year to identify and schedule new spectrum bands to be auctioned before 2020. 

We must move with urgency, because other countries have seen our 4G success and are taking bold steps towards the next-generation of wireless. U.S. carriers are doing their part, investing billions and unleashing their engineers to make the promise of 5G a reality. But regulators play a key role, and that’s why the FCC deserves praise. The FCC’s first step exemplifies forward-thinking, bipartisan policymaking at its finest.   

Tomorrow’s 5G networks won’t just connect people, 5G will connect everything. That wireless future – our wireless future – is one step closer this week, and that is something we all should celebrate.    

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