President Trump Friday confidently declared that the US will lead the world in deploying the next generation of wireless services known as 5G. "The race to 5G is a race that the United States must win," Trump said at a White House event, flanked by farmers in cowboy hats and workers in hardhats. "It's a race that we will win." But the plan outlined at the event by Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai doesn't offer any new ideas to accelerate the growth of 5G in the US. The fear shared by politicians across the political spectrum is that if the US falls behind China in 5G, Chinese companies will overtake US leadership in the global technology industry.
That doesn't mean 5G won't open up interesting possibilities in areas like home broadband and machine-to-machine connectivity. But in the form of wireless mobile device connectivity we know best, 5G marketing has been writing checks that actual 5G technology will have a lot of trouble cashing. The first thing to know about 5G is that it's a family affair--and a sometimes-dysfunctional one. Millimeter-wave 5G occupies bands much higher than any used for 4G LTE today--24 gigahertz and up, far above the 2.5 GHz frequency of Sprint, hitherto the highest-frequency band in use by the major US carriers. At those frequencies, 5G can send data with fiber optic speeds and latency--1.2
Technical standards for the next generation of wireless services aren't even finalized, yet the US and China are already locked in a crucial race to be the first country to deploy a so-called 5G network. Or at least that's what both the US government and the wireless industry say. "The United States will not get a second chance to win the global 5G race," Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of the wireless industry group CTIA, warned in April, when the group released a report concluding that the US trails China and South Korea in preparing for 5G (fifth generation) networks. If that doesn't change, the report warns, the US economy will suffer. The report echoed a leaked National Security Council document that suggested the US government consider building a 5G network.
The interstate highway system wasn't built in the name of convenience or even commerce. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, he did it in the name of national security. In fact, the official name of the system is the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
Deloitte Global predicts that 2019 will be the year in which fifth-generation (5G) wide-area wireless networks arrive in scale. There were 72 operators testing 5G in 2018,1 and by the end of 2019, we expect 25 operators to have launched 5G service in at least part of their territory (usually cities) with another 26 operators to launch in 2020, more than doubling the total. Further, we expect about 20 handset vendors to launch 5G-ready handsets in 2019 (with the first available in Q2), and about 1 million 5G handsets (out of a projected 1.5 billion smartphone handsets sold in 2019) to be shipped by year's end. One million 5G modems (also known as pucks or hotspots) will be sold, and around a million 5G fixed wireless access devices will be installed. At the end of 2020, we expect 5G handset sales (15–20 million units) to represent approximately 1 percent of all smartphone sales, with sales taking off in 2021, the first year in which retailers will sell more than 100 million 5G handsets.