In a visibly passionate address to the Washington press corps yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined examples of what the new world of 5G could make possible, “but if anyone tells you they know the details of what 5G will deliver, walk the other way,” Wheeler advised. But Wheeler is sure 5G’s infrastructure will rely heavily on small cells, towers, antennas and backhaul.
“To make sure we have this connectivity with high-band spectrum will require a lot more small cells, which means a lot more antenna siting decisions by local governments,” he told a packed luncheon at the National Press Club. “That’s why it’s important that the Commission has streamlined our environmental and historic preservation rules, and tightened our ‘shot clock’ for siting application reviews. America’s local governments will play an important role in determining how we fulfill this national priority.”
Wheeler stressed, “all these small cell sites will need to be connected, so we’ll need a lot more backhaul. That’s a challenge we’re going to address through our proceeding on Business Data Services, the kind of dedicated access that wireless providers need to connect cell towers and antennae to their networks. These backhaul connections can be as much as 30 percent of the cost of operating a wireless network. And with the additional sites required to support use of the millimeter wave spectrum, that percentage is likely to increase, to as much as 50 percent.”
Industry will have to gear up for the massive 5G build out. Wheeler, who billed his address as “The Future of Wireless: A Vision for U.S. Leadership in a 5G World,” encouraged the wireless industry to step up and compete in all aspects for the 5G’s evolution. He noted that in many areas, “competition in the supply of backhaul remains limited, and that can translate into higher prices for wireless networks and then higher prices for consumers. Lack of competition doesn’t just hurt the deployment of wireless networks today, it threatens as well to delay the build out of 5G networks with its demand for many, many more backhaul connections to many, many more antennae. Before the end of this year the Commission will take up a reform proposal – supported by the nation’s leading wireless carriers, save one – that will encourage innovation and investment in Business Data Services while ensuring that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold 5G hostage.”
He told the enthusiastic crowd, “Yes, 5G will connect the unconnected and compete with the uncompetitive. Millions of Americans can’t access high-speed connectivity because it’s too costly to run fiber to the home.” Wheeler reported that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has been speaking lately about using 5G connectivity to expand high-speed broadband service to rural areas. “Fiber-fast wireless connectivity will deliver that long-sought goal of competitive high-speed Internet access for consumers.”