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January 16, 2018

2018: Year of the Next Generation of Wireless .

2018: Year of the Next Generation of Wireless

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Tom Sawanobori
Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer

2018 has arrived, and while my New Year’s resolutions are already broken, there is one promise I’m certain I can keep this year: you’re going to hear a lot about 5G and the future of wireless.

With the first 5G standards announced at the end of 2017—nearly two years earlier than originally planned—the wireless industry will spend much of 2018 sprinting to build the radio technologies that will be foundational for 5G networks. Equipment manufacturers will finalize designs of 5G-compatible chips, radios, and antennas. Device manufacturers will prototype new smartphone designs to accommodate the new technologies. And carriers will be planning the architecture of their 5G networks.

This progress will spur more 5G tests and trials across the country. If 2017 brought a few sprinkles of 5G trials here and there, 2018 will be a full downpour of them. Some of these trials will focus on 5G fixed wireless, which will help bring wireless broadband to set locations, like your home or office. This type of 5G service is predicted to expand access to broadband, including in hard-to-reach areas. Other trials will focus on mobility, leading to carriers deploying limited, commercial 5G networks in select locations in 2018—a huge step on an already accelerated timeline for the next generation of wireless.

New device and network technologies will add to the momentum from these tests and trials. Manufacturers are looking into new types of batteries that can fully charge in just a few minutes, some over the air. Meanwhile, carriers are exploring ways to reduce latency in their networks, for example by setting up Mobile Edge Computing servers to shorten the distance that data needs to travel.

And to top it all off, 2018 will offer more glimpses into the Internet of Things future that I’ve been dreaming about since I first saw the Jetsons. We’ll see wireless carriers test and optimize their networks for different drone use cases, from package delivery to public safety. Autonomous vehicles will take the road in new towns and cities. More “smart” technologies will be available to manage tasks in the home and to make our cities run efficiently. And we’ll see innovations in robotics and AI.

5G will unlock further advancements in all of these industries with its faster speeds (up to 100x faster than 4G), increased capacity (able to support 100x more devices), and ability to respond in real-time. But to see this potential realized—especially at the speed the industry is moving to keep pace with other nations—we need policymakers’ help to win the race to 5G.

In 2018, Congress and the FCC should empower the industry to move fast by creating a pipeline of spectrum auctions for low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum to support the capacity needs of 5G.

And local, state, and federal officials should modernize their wireless infrastructure siting processes to make it easier to deploy 5G. Too many rules on the books were designed for the era of 200-foot cell towers, not the pizza-box-sized small cell antennas that are the infrastructure of the 5G future.

My hope for 2018 is that policymakers act quickly to help position America’s wireless industry as the global leader in wireless and 5G—millions of jobs and billions of dollars in investment depend on it. And so does my Jetsons space car.

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