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).