5G: Where We Are and Where We’re Heading

In the last few months, we have seen society’s embrace of technology accelerate dramatically. Automation, Artificial Intelligence, virtual experiences, autonomous vehicles and robotics have all become much more accepted as humanity realized what those technologies could mean to human progress. The global pandemic has also forced corporations to shift business models, redefine education, recast healthcare over distance and fundamentally opened the door to different ways to do almost everything we understood before COVID.

At the same time, the wonders of technology have caused divides—both economic and geographic—that need to be addressed as we look to recover and rebuild. Today, the future of the economy and our communities depends on the ability of business and governments to invest in a long-term digital transformation strategy that includes everyone and everything regardless of their location or prior relationship with modern technology. One of the key elements of making this transformation real is having a pervasive way to reach the entire digital ecosystem. We will be dependent on modern connectivity to connect the clouds to the edges to the people to the devices across society; and at this time the single most important new technology to make that happen is next generation 5G wireless communications technology.

Building 5G on Top of Existing 4G Infrastructure – An Important First Step

Today, 5G is at best an extension of the 4G environment with legacy or traditional technology powering cellular networks for moderately faster speeds. The big four U.S. carriers have each introduced technology that aims to bring 5G connectivity to consumers – essentially adding on 5G equipment to an existing 4G LTE network.

While these early efforts to bolster 4G LTE networks are admirable and demonstrate the appetite for the 5G experience, they are still very early in delivering the high broadband speeds, near zero latency, and high device density promise of 5G. The journey to get there is the challenge, and we have pretty significant hurdles to overcome from a U.S. perspective and will need the full investment of the US innovation ecosystem.

The Race to 5G Dominance Heats up Across the Globe

One of the biggest impediments to 5G infrastructure is the limited marketplace that exists, particularly in the U.S., which lacks at-scale providers of modern 5G equipment used to build these new networks. If we don’t fix that problem, 5G adoption in the U.S. will lag behind other nations and the US technology ecosystem will participate from the outside of this critical technology. The government must find creative ways to attract U.S.-based companies into the 5G ecosystem by sharing risk and creating incentives. With the capital, resources, and talent to build a 5G infrastructure, big tech will be able to increase their participation in 5G at an accelerated rate. We know that when the technology industry of the United States is fully present in a technical ecosystem, amazing innovation happens, and true progress occurs. We have seen this in Cloud, IT, software defined systems, virtualization, security and even in wireless technology many years ago.

This change in the role of the U.S. technical ecosystem is critical. The lack of a robust secure supply chain, U.S. technology, and control over the intellectual property rights of the 5G ecosystem introduces significant strategic, security, economic, and political risk to the communications industry. The impact of these deficiencies goes beyond just mobile connectivity. The U.S. must drive the innovation and standardization of national 5G infrastructure to not only get left behind on the world stage, but also play a major role in the marketplace as it has for nearly every other technological invention. By doing so, we can increase market competitiveness, prevent vendor lock-in, and lower costs at a time when governments globally need to prioritize spending. More importantly, we can set the stage for the next wave of wireless that will far more resemble the cloud and IT ecosystems than traditional telecom systems.

To Stand up a 5G Network in the U.S., We Need a New Model

Until now, major efforts to develop a national 5G network have been segmented, but not for lack of trying. Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) standard is a great place to start – open is always better than closed when it comes to innovation and standardization. However, with O-RAN, you run the risk of open environments without optimization. If you can’t make the disparate parts work together, you don’t necessarily have an effective open environment.

We need to change how we approach building a 5G infrastructure, starting from the ground up. 5G is not simply an evolution of 4G; it requires massive transformation, a multitude of additional towers and demands new distributed architectures using software-defined networks. Dell Technologies believes the model should mimic how you build a cloud; it’s done with a coalition, an ecosystem, and people who understand how to build modern systems beyond just the specific needs of telecom networks. And that’s where Dell Technologies and others are starting to emerge as potential facilitators to enable that collaboration and integration at scale.

Now is the Time

Building sustainable 5G networks is a massive undertaking, one that requires federal support and investment from American companies. Deploying 5G networks in the coming years requires immediate capital for new infrastructure, devices, and services. It also requires a focus on not just creating demand for 5G but in creating U.Ss sources of supply of the underlying technology. This is an investment in creating new players or pulling adjacent companies into the 5G ecosystem. At the end we must have a wireless ecosystem that includes not just the existing well-respected international players but also fully includes a number of at-scale U.S. technology companies playing primary roles in the future of wireless.

The events of the last six months have changed the way every technologist thinks about innovation. As more and more data are created at the edge, we’ve become a culture reliant on remote access. Permanent expansion of digital healthcare, education, remote work, job training, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement requires accessibility to a high-speed network, and investment in 5G technology infrastructure can make closing the digital divide possible. The US is leading the innovation in almost every aspect of that future except the core technology to connect it all together. That must change as a matter of national interest. Now is the time for us to seize the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure for a digital economy and to ensure the future global competitiveness of our nation.

About the Author: John Roese