Why is the United States behind on 5G?

No American company makes the devices that transmit high-speed wireless signals. Huawei is the clear leader in the field; the Swedish company Ericsson is a distant second; and the Finnish company Nokia is third.

It is almost surprising that the Defense Department allowed the report to be published at all, given the board’s remarkably blunt assessment of the nation’s lack of innovation and what it said was one of the biggest impediments to rolling out 5G in the United States: the Pentagon itself.

The board said the broadband spectrum needed to create a successful network was reserved not for commercial purposes but for the military.

To work best, 5G needs what’s called low-band spectrum, because it allows signals to travel farther than high-band spectrum. The farther the signal can travel, the less infrastructure has to be deployed.

In China and even in Europe, governments have reserved low-band spectrum for 5G, making it efficient and less costly to blanket their countries with high-speed wireless connectivity. In the United States, the low-band spectrum is reserved for the military.

The difference this makes is stark. Google conducted an experiment for the board, placing 5G transmitters on 72,735 towers and rooftops. Using high-band spectrum, the transmitters covered only 11.6 percent of the United States population at a speed of 100 megabits per second and only 3.9 percent at 1 gigabit per second. If the same transmitters could use low-band spectrum, 57.4 percent of the population would be covered at 100 megabits per second and 21.2 percent at 1 gigabit per second.

In other words, the spectrum that has been allotted in the United States for commercial 5G communications makes 5G significantly slower and more expensive to roll out than just about anywhere else.

That is a commercial disincentive and puts the United States at a distinct disadvantage.

Here is more from Andrew Ross Sorkin (NYT).

Comments

The last American company to make wireless telecom equipment was Lucent before it was destroyed by Carly Fiorina and her Wall Street buddies by gutting product R&D. IPO to penny stock in less than a decade. Does it get any more symbolic than MBAs literally destroying American innovation (aka Bell Labs) to make bonus?

https://fortune.com/2010/10/15/carly-fiorinas-troubling-telecom-past/

The American Conservative posted a really good article which was linked here a few days ago but should be spotlighted again:

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/americas-monopoly-crisis-hits-the-military/

The real way she destroyed Lucent was when as head of sales she went all-in on vendor financing, I.e. extending credit to customers, many being new entrants that went bust during the 2000 recession, leaving Lucent with huge losses.

That said, Lucent inherited a culture of executive corruption from AT&T that made it unlikely to survive in a competitive market.

"distinct disadvantage" This assumes that there is some meaningful advantage to 5G.

That assumes that there are some meaningful advantages to 512 scan line NTSC TV, 110V high current electricity supply, CDMA wireless where nobody else had adopted, and the imperial measurement units.

640K ought to be enough for anybody.

And yet you failed to cite a single advantage... Go figure.

So here is your challenge: Give me ONE, the best advantage that 5G will give me. Not a paragraph of quotes and complaints, give me the one thing that makes it all worth while.

I’d always assumed it was substantially higher connection capacity (as opposed to speed). The high vs lowland therefore confuses me. It’s possible I know nothing.

Hilarious. Read the report. The USA doesn't use the same spectrum that the rest of the world so when manufacturers follow market leader Huawei in using 3-4 GHz it ends up smack dab in US military frequencies. Tragically, the US doesn't have technical leadership in 5G so they can't steer these standards to something more US friendly (thanks Carly!). Americans forgot what real leadership looks like when they don't come from the bean counter class.

Americans don't make products like they used to. Strange since I thought Steve Jobs when he was around inspired a great many future business leaders to develop a keen eye for products that spoke directly to consumers. Instead junk rules the day. Last week I sat in my rental car on a hot blistering day waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the touch screen to boot up just to turn on the AC. What a disaster. Did I mention it was a few menus deep requiring more taps than I would have liked? And that the LCD display washes out in direct sunlight making it so hard to read that I almost turned on the heater? It was such a joke that I have to wonder if people in Detroit actually drive these cars. For 50 cents worth of plastic, I prefer a knob to the useless electronic junk that is easier to break and more pricey to fix. This way of doing business will not make this country great again.

So the good low band spectrum should be reserved for the military or not?

Allow the old guy to ramble. It is important to him.

The only people that deserve 5G are the troops! The rest of you ungrateful, cowardly LGBTQABCXZ latte drinking city civvies can suck it.

More "proof" that Huawei works for the Chinese state based on 3 leaked resumes. From Christopher Balding:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3415726

I'm all for due process. These accusations are making us look stupid.

China's digital espionage is documented out the wazoo. Go to any tech security site and you'll see tons of examples.

Spectrum is both a public good and a limited resource. An interesting angle from the DIB but I do question if that is the main bottleneck. I suspect that if the opportunity for profit was actually there, it would be very easy to fund by the ambitious venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road looking to park their money. Yet, Huawei is king of the hill because they compete on price and that is a barrier to entry the same way Walmart or Amazon's low prices are barrier for new entrants. VCs are easily spooked when they see a hard cap on their returns. Should we seek a state solution or would that makes us too much like China?

What is doing business with AT&T or Verizon like because that is who you have to sell to. Seems like there is a monopsony buyer dynamic going on that prevents a vibrant ecosystem from forming. There aren't a lot of buyers, they are big, bureaucratic, and probably cheap (can you beat Huawei?). Limited upside.

Matt
In the 1970's basic college economics taught that US was a mixed economy. Example as to why this was best were given. Then the neoliberals took over and the term was removed from the textbooks.
More basic changes occurred and some feel non of them worked well.

Imagine a scenario where competitors (Huawei, Samsung) have 5G phones and Apple does not. The 5G hiccups may be helpful to Apple because consumers do not know yet how far behind is Apple in the 5G race.

"Imagine a scenario where competitors (Huawei, Samsung) have 5G phones and Apple does not. "

First, it would probably be irrelevant for at least a couple of years, because paying for a 5G phone when you don't have minimal 5G access isn't much of a selling point.

Second, Apple will likely have 5G in it's 2020 series of iPhones.

So, it's a likely scenario, but of almost no consequence.

Irrelevant in the US maybe; Apple loses its overseas share of sales though.

If Huawei is dominant because it competes efficiently on price, and if 5G is high enough a security risk to be given to Huawei, then shouldn't we raise the Huawei price (via tariffs perhaps) until an externality adjusted equilibrium is reached?

You don't need a tariff because Huawei is banned. In any case, do you want to start a capital intensive business that is dependent on the whims of government?

Huawei is dominant because it is run by an engineer, not a bean-counter, and has been outspending its competitors 2:1 in R&D for the last two decades. British Telecom’s Chief Architect says they are the only true 5G vendor, with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung far behind. The fact they don’t have a millstone like millimeter-wave frequencies that literally can’t punch their way out of a paper bag helps them, of course.

Other countries will follow, as adopting millimeter wave radio standards would mean much slower and more expensive deployment of 5G, and make their economies less competitive. Even countries like India that have an adversarial military position with China.

A technology that was introduced 2 years ago is now vital to national security? Colour me sceptical.

It is really about dominance in trade but the Americans enjoy making everything into national security. It allows them to involve the government without spoiling the narrative that government should not be involved in free markets. But it is really that they cannot accept being outcompeted so the other guy must have cheated. Nevermind that Huawei can't steal 5G from the Americans since they have no 5G equipment maker to steal from!

So Qualcomm isn't an American company anymore?

They don't make network equipment like Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson etc.. They make modems for smartphones and some base station modems.

Qualcomm gave away some of their crown jewels to China. They closed down their ARM server chip business and injected their IPs into a Chinese controlled JV. Thanks to Trump, Qualcomm now cannot receive any royalty from their IPs or have any say in their joint product output the multi-core 64 bit StarDragon ARM server chips.

Almost the same with AMD though their nominally retain control on the IP, thanks to Trump the JV in China is now on auto-pilot without AMD governance. Out of AMD's annual USD 68 million profit, USD 60 million came from that IP royalty which AMD cannot receive now and the JV most probably put that into an escrow account.

US likes to shoot itself on the foots.

Someone said they stole 5g tech? That's a new one on me.

So is there a positive argument there for the military to have this spectrum space? Or is just an archaism? Article's paywall/regwall so don't know.

I am somewhat suspicious of the "blame the military" angle, as it seems to play to the biases of the American cosmopolitan upper middle class. Which are somewhat anti-military and inwards looking (that is psychologically focused on internal disputes, competition and position within the national society , and looking little at other countries except to use them as props in rhetroic, whilst self styling as open to the world).

The military got the RF space for free, like radio and TV broadcasters, so they have no incentive to be efficient with it.

Modern military systems in the West are incredibly reliant on fast, low-latency communications. The air defense of a carrier group or manned aircraft controlling drones all rely on fast wireless communications, in effect floating or flying data centers, but that doesn’t mean the frequencies need to be blocked off on US soil for other uses.

Unless the US DoD likes to invade itself, they do not have control of that spectrum internationally.

Game over. The US military is politically untouchable. Maybe if Google offered to pay them for use of the low-band spectrum?

Interesting, I recall reading a while ago that air travel in China is awful because so much of its airspace is reserved for military use... it looks like the shoe is on the other foot now.

What do the transmission speeds that Tyler cites without context actually mean? What can I do at 1 gig per second that I can't at 100 MB/sec? And am I really going to do those things on 5G rather than finding a Wi-Fi connection?

My anecdotal recollection is that 4G was a massive improvement upon 3G -- does 5G offer the same leap forward, or is it more incremental?

640 kB/sec ought to be enough for anybody

5G is up to a hundred times theoretically ( 10 Gbps). The latency is also very much improved about 30x . It's not just a faster network, it's a smarter network. It allows all kinds of very fast connections from people or machines. Say you're in a self driving car, network connected to all other cars nearby, you're watching a 4 K video of a soccer game. You enter a parking structure, the network may automatically switch you to a lower frequency band and fractionalize/apportion your bandwidth to use whatever best channels ( including Wifi for example) around you to seamlessly maintain your quality of service without you noticing your packets are routed using many different channels.

Shouldn't the US military just stick to its agreed role of making shoddy but expensive weapons?

Huawei is thus the only good supplier the military has.

This gets only worse as most commercial economies adopt 5G but it is efficient commercially. The military can never keep up with the 5G tech and need rely on external foreign suppliers.

OK, maybe I'm missing something here. So the article presents 2 facts: 1) the US is a lousy environment for 5G deployment, and 2) there are no US 5G equipment manufacturer of note. Unexplained, but implied, is how the 2 facts are connected. 1) is only an explanation for 2) if equipment manufacturers rely on sales to domestic market to justify R&D decisions. Do they? Or do equipment manufacturers sell to a global customer base? I'm pretty sure global customer base is the answer for companies not called Huawei or ZTE.

If domestic deployment difficulties for 5G are to blame, then there must have been US 4G manufacturers? Were there? How about 3G? I guess Lucent and Nortel were active back then, but did they ever have significant cell market share? I vaguely remember the market back then was dominated by Nokia and Ericsson. In any case, 3G was 20 years ago, and Lucent disappeared 15 years ago. Am I correct in thinking that there has been no top-N US manufacturer of cell-facing equipment since Lucent? And somehow that's the fault of the DoD hogging 5G spectrum? The dots don't connect for me.

I agree that the military should give up some spectrum but I agree with you that the article failed to connect that back to why the US is behind on 5G. If the US by fiat declared low band spectrum for civilian use tomorrow, the Huaweis, Ericssons, and Nokias will become filthy rich overnight. Trump is a mercantilist and hates trade deficits so I can see why he made calls for nationalizing 5G.

Perhaps the issue is that 5G isn't really relevant or necessary? Is anyone really clmouring to have their phone be able to reduce buffering time for videos 0.5 seconds to 0.05 seconds? Is there some demand for 4k video on smartphones by people farting their way to work on an LRT? Is it from neo-white trash self-absorbed late-millenials who need to make sure they swipe past 400 gigabytes of photos on Instagram every day so they "stay current?"

We've got wi-fi at home. We've got wi-fi at work. Who is desparate for an upgrade from 4G for the space in between?

From what I see, 5G isn't hear because it adds near zero value except the saddest social media addict losers who can't look away from their phone for more than 30 seconds without having a total meltdown.

+1. I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise, but discussions of 5G always seem to assume that the benefits are worth the cost without explaining why.

Better bandwidth, better latency, better coverage. Is that worth an extra 10-20 bucks on your bill? Many will think so.

New apps will be created that require always-available superfast bandwidth.

No I can't think of any offhand. If I could, I'd be launching my startup instead of sitting here commenting.

Think of cars. They weren't merely faster horses. They transformed cities for better or worse by enabling the creation of vast suburbs and bedroom communities and shopping malls. A change in speed, if significant enough, makes not just a quantitative difference but a qualitative difference.

You sound like the folks back in the late 1970s who wondered why people would ever need personal computers. The most imaginative idea they could come up with was storing recipes.

To play the devil's advocate, there are only so many ways we can consume information (text, audio, image, video). In the past, network speed was a bottleneck to letting us consume consume these forms of information in high quality and in real time.

So now we can stream high definition audio and video in real time. For the first time, we've saturated the capacity of our sensory inputs. Networking company executives are all struggling to come up with new use cases for higher speeds, and coming up empty-handed. They made a big push for AR/VR that fell flat.

You focus exclusively on human consumption of audiovisual entertainment, i.e., existing applications. My point was that it will enable transformative, as-yet unimagined applications. And some of it will be machine-to-machine communications.

Storing recipes, lol.

5G has much lower latency ( the time it takes by access points , routers, network nodes,etc.. to process the data) < 1 ms vs 4 G ( ~ 30 ms) . This is necessary for applications like connected cars/self driving cars where connections and response times have to be very fast. It can also handle a lot more data traffic. According to the network company Ericsson, smartphone data traffic will increase 10 times between 2016 and 2022. Its the natural evolution of our data network. After 5G there will no doubt be 6G

When has it ever been a good idea to say "ok that's fast enough, no need to improve that technology any more, we're good staying here"

I guess maybe with biotech/genetic editing

Many years ago US was slow into HDTV and Japan went in early.
Ten or so years later US business got in with Digital HDTV.
US gets the big royalties, Asia gets poor manufacturing jobs.

Would US business let this happen? Do not know?
Apparently Tyler thinks it is a problem!

A better example is RAM. Japanese industrial policy was to corner the RAM market (undercutting US manufacturing in RAM) and leaving the US with just the CPU market. They were completely successful. Unfortunately, they made RAM a commodity market & the profit margins collapsed. Industrial policy is akin to successfully predicting the future at the margins.

The Google study is sort of meaningless without knowing what internet capability the 57% already have, right? It seems likely that the "57%" are the city-dwellers, who already have pretty good access/choices. The marginal quality of life/productivity improvement would be minimal. The rural 50%, the ones who would see a step change in productivity, don't get any benefit out of 5G.

I'm not sure I follow the argument here. Low-band is off limits in the US for civilian use presumably for both foreign and domestic producers of 5G, so why would that explain why US firms are behind foreign firms? Will foreign firms' 5G devices not work in the US (unless low-band spectrum is re-allocated away from military to civilian)? If not, that could paradoxically be a (protectionist, admittedly) reason to not release low band spectrum for 5G: high-band US devices could work everywhere (although not as well as low band outside the US), but low-band foreign devices would only work outside the US.

I could understand a *consumer-centered* argument for releasing low band spectrum for civilian use. That might be, according to the author, the only way for US consumers to get access to 5G, whether from foreign or US producers. If foreign firms are ahead of US firms in low-band devicies though, that wouldn't seem like a good reason from US firms' perspective to re-allocate low band spectrum to civilian.

in higher frequency bands ( 30 GHz, 60 GHz) you can have very high data rates, However these frequencies have a shorter range, They don't penetrate well through walls for example.
One way to compensate for the shorter range is to have a lot more base stations. However in urban environments, they have to be placed on poles, or suitable locations where right of ways have to be secured and often streets have to be dug up to connect them to the fiber backbone. You need permits from cities to do that. This is very expensive and time consuming to schedule. All this capital investment and time means 5G infrastructure roll-out will be slow.
Other countries use lower band spectrum and require a lot fewer base stations. They can install the infrastructure faster. In the US this spectrum is often blocked by the military. It's not so much an equipment problem as a cost and time of deployment problem.

At one point I recall Verizon was talking about leveraging the home routers they deploy. Other carriers and cable companies could do the same. That would seem to solve the infrastructure problem for most people -- but is a urban-rural dichotomy situation.

Not without some problems but seems like it might be a lot cheaper than building all those new cell towers. Highway travel and many commute routes might be a problem too but that seems like a secondary problem to solve over a longer time.

LMFAO at the MR neocon clowns trying to defend US’s objectively backward infrastructure policy relative to the WORLD and failure of imagination on a technology/apps capitalizing on a faster 5G network.
Save the prime mover advantage for Asia or Europe right?

This slice of the neocon yet somewhat neoliberal MR population are rationalizing Department of Defense crowding out effects as miniscule. That's the price of freedom for Israel and Saudi Arabia! Maybe there needs to be a term for these guys that want the US to remain commercially behind (or just flyover parts of the US) the world because the Pentagon said so, neocon justice warriors?

These clowns would defend dial up modems for backwards ass Midwestern flyover country if DoD had a monopoly on fiber for "national security reasons" as a patriotic duty.

Whatever happened to the US being a technology leader/experimenter with commercially competitive infrastructure instead of settling for rationalizing a Giffen Good?

War against straw. DoD report advocates for selling some low-band bandwith anyway - https://media.defense.gov/2019/Apr/03/2002109302/-1/-1/0/DIB_5G_STUDY_04.03.19.PDF

"Neo con MR commentators" (who are not well described with that term, mostly being against invading random countries across the world, and against the Bush II years) would do better to follow its middle-ground recommendations for a sensible and phased transition of some of the sub-6G space and understanding that this would take time.

Rather than those that would no doubt be made by either the retarded MR libertarian tendency ("Sell up all the low-band space immediataely, and invite Huawei in! Shock therapy! What do we even need the military for anyway?") and the SJW tendency, who would no doubt find some way to transform it into a diversity issue in which the process would have to be monitored by some group of civil servants.

Economists deny nature:

"To work best, 5G needs what’s called low-band spectrum, because it allows signals to travel farther than high-band spectrum. The farther the signal can travel, the less infrastructure has to be deployed."

To work best at delivering high data rates, the frequency must be high, not "low band".

To allow many concurrent transmissions, the range must be low to allow spacial separation to eliminate too many broadcastors creating interference for each other.

Cell phones are called "cell" because unlike radio phones, like Drake has in his car in later Perry Mason seasons, low power and short distance transmission allows many conccurrent conversations. The trransmitter/receiver base stations are laid out to cover an area called a cell.

5G needs high band plus many times more cells aka base stations.

Nature refuses to bend to the wishes of economists seeking free lunches.

Sounds like you are describing a design feature that sets limits rather than some fundamental physical property. You are aware that radio communications with submarines uses a low frequency (low band) signal to get deeper under the water.

I think you might also be simplifying/confusing the carrier frequency and the data signals...

Cisco 5G strategy and products

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/service-provider/mobile-internet/mobility-technical-documents.html

(Cisco is an American company, for anyone who didn't know)

Cisco is content not being a big player in 5G and let Huawei and friends run the tables. Why is that? Is the ROI that bad?

Cisco CEO: "“There’s a high degree of ignorance about 5G around the world. It’s not like there’s one vendor that can build 5G networks. This is a fallacy. The reality is that Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung have great 5G macro radio technology and we have virtually everything else you need to build 5G networks.”"

https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/cisco-ceo-takes-high-road-on-5g-china/2019/06/

Who cares?

Huawei can do it @ 60% of the price.

I see ads on US TV where a doctor says 5G is important for displaying 3D holograms of brain tumors.

Really? Are we to believe imaging technology is reliant on a certain wireless networking protocol? I don't believe it. My funny bone says this ad promoting 5G is blowing smoke.

Unless there are real applications for 5G maybe it doesn't make sense for a rapid deployment of the technology across the US.

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