The Implications of the 5G Race

We had 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G, and now we are at the brink of deploying 5G. 4G was an extension and update to 3G, but to say that 5G is an extension of 4G is completely misguided. 5G has the potential to completely change the user experience. 5G will be making improvements upon existing 4G capabilities; for example it will transfer data ten times faster than 4G, will have shorter latency, and will increase connectivity. However it can be hard to conceptualize what  other aspects of 5G will look like, but more importantly, how it will affect one’s daily activities and modes of communication. 5G technology will be able to support autonomous vehicles and telemedicine, for example. A video shows that you can do furniture shopping on IKEA.com from the comfort of your own home. 5G technology will allow one’s phone camera to impose furniture into a space to see how it will fit in your home. By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide. These devices include smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart refrigerators, vehicles, and augmented reality specs. 5G will run on a new high-spectrum band, which will use higher frequency signals than 4G and the band will be less congested.

Though this new technology may seem far off, in reality, it’s not. Samsung and Intel debuted 5G at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to stream live VR coverage of sporting events.  In the U.S., major carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint plan to roll out their versions of 5G later this year. One most likely will not see 5G deploy rapidly or become more accessible until sometime in 2019.

Why should we care?

Though Europe was the leader in 3G and the US was the leader in 4G, there are only two options for 5G: the US and China. It is a race against time pitting each country against one another, but only one can emerge victorious. Whoever wins this race will dominate 5G technology around the globe.

One example is the Qualcomm and Broadcom merger. Earlier this year, Singapore company, Broadcom, wanted to re-domicile in the United States. Qualcomm, a US based company, feared that Broadcom had malicious intent to do a hostile takeover of the company and the market. This matters because Qualcomm is the only US company with the resources to create and deploy 5G. A Broadcom hostile takeover would have shut down the US’ chance to develop and deploy 5G. Fortunately, President Trump prohibited the 117 billion dollar deal because of national security concerns. Though the words “national security” may be thrown around broadly, it is a grave concern to the US’ lead and influence in technology and innovation.

Huawei, a Chinese corporation, is the only other company who can develop 5G. Huawei has said that they play to deploy 5G later this year; Qualcomm is a step behind and plans to roll out 5G at the beginning of 2019. If we lose the 5G race to China our chances on being a leader in 5G technology are done for good. The amount of R&D, capital, and labor that goes into making this technology is too complex to replicate. But if we lose the race to 5G, that does not necessarily mean that all future success in tech and innovation is lost. What comes after 5G? This is also an important question to address.

Though 5G technology will be deployed either later this year or the beginning of next year, it will be coming soon. If we can fix our policy roadblocks at home to better incentivize inventors and R&D we may better face the challenge of beating China in the race to 5G.