Trump’s 5G spectrum memo

Posted on Thursday, November 01, 2018

As I was preparing Tuesday’s blog, I ran across the US White House’s memorandum on 5G which is also on spectrum management. This is an official policy memo not a press release, so it is unfair perhaps to compare the one to the other.

The US memo is much, much longer with an extensive preamble to justify the Presidential orders in the second half of the memo.

“In the growing digital economy, wireless technologies expand opportunities to increase economic output of rural communities and connect them with urban markets, and offer safety benefits that save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce the cost of transportation incidents.  American companies and institutions rely heavily on high-speed wireless connections, with increasing demands on both speed and capacity.  Wireless technologies are helping to bring broadband to rural, unserved, and underserved parts of America.”

It appears that there are digital divides even in the “World’s Most Advanced Economy” and the place where 5G will be launched first.

Speaking of 5G…

“Moreover, it is imperative that America be first in fifth-generation (5G) wireless technologies — wireless technologies capable of meeting the high-capacity, low-latency, and high-speed requirements that can unleash innovation broadly across diverse sectors of the economy and the public sector. Flexible, predictable spectrum access by the United States Government will help ensure that Federal users can meet current and future mission requirements for a broad range of both communications- and non-communications-based systems.”

As is typical of such pronouncements (by any government), the definition of “first” is not specified.

I would have thought that the US had already managed “first” given commercial launches by Verizon and AT&T, the usual, practical definition of being “first” in a technology generation. If so, why this memo at this time?

Maybe the President means some other definition of “first”.

“First” in device market share will be an interesting socio-economic dynamic between the world’s biggest economy (the US) and its most populous (China). If we can somehow avoid having 6G, so there is no artificial curtailing of the adoption curve, China will likely win on demographic weight and I don’t think “flexible, predictable spectrum access” will be relevant. Conversely, with no native RAN vendor, it will be hard for the US to claim to be “first” in equipment revenues, R&D leadership or any purely technological measure. (Qualcomm, Cisco and a host of other important US companies notwithstanding, there is simply too much weight in Europe and China.)

Remember I said Tuesday that I like clear objectives.

But this is quibbling. Politics is all about image management, especially in the age we live in, so I should not expect this preamble to be any more coherent than that of any other country. However, as I have said before, I like Colombia’s Minister Silvia Constaín’s clear, concise objective – which, to be honest, also lacks a precise statistical definition. Still “connecting all Colombians and connecting them well” is a higher-order objective with clear practical benefits than somehow being “first” in 5G.

The memo’s real purpose is to kick off a 9-month process (“270 days”) to develop a “National Spectrum Strategy”:

“(a)  increase spectrum access for all users, including on a shared basis, through transparency of spectrum use and improved cooperation and collaboration between Federal and non-Federal spectrum stakeholders;

(b)  create flexible models for spectrum management, including standards, incentives, and enforcement mechanisms that promote efficient and effective spectrum use, including flexible-use spectrum licenses, while accounting for critical safety and security concerns;

(c)  use ongoing research, development, testing, and evaluation to develop advanced technologies, innovative spectrum-utilization methods, and spectrum-sharing tools and techniques that increase spectrum access, efficiency, and effectiveness;

(d)  build a secure, automated capability to facilitate assessments of spectrum use and expedite coordination of shared access among Federal and non-Federal spectrum stakeholders; and

(e)  improve the global competitiveness of United States terrestrial and space-related industries and augment the mission capabilities of Federal entities through spectrum policies, domestic regulations, and leadership in international forums.”

One wonders why this was not done before or even if it is already done. The memo revokes two Obama-era memoranda “June 28, 2010 (Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution) and June 14, 2013 (Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Innovation)”. Maybe these tried to do something similar but in the modern world of erasing history their contributions never finished or have been forgotten. Maybe not.

The President’s memo did not get the reception he might have hoped for. I doubt many outside the industry even noticed. The telecom press picked it up but no one seemed enthused.  This article from the Verge has the subtitle “The White House is arriving late to the conversation around 5G”.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, (@JRosenworcel) tweeted:

“The White House announced that late next year it will have a new national spectrum policy. But other nations are moving ahead while we’re headed to study hall–and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on 5G networks. This doesn’t speed our 5G leadership–it slows us down.”

(Rosenworcel was an Obama-era appointee but was confirmed by the US Senate for an additional term in August 2017. How did that happen? Can she be fired? Or bullied into leaving? Criticism of Presidential memos is not normally welcome. The next FCC meeting could be a testy session given that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was probably involved in the memo. But then, maybe not.)

Better late than never perhaps. Assuming, as above, that the US does not already have a “National Spectrum Strategy”.

If the purpose was “to bring broadband to rural, unserved, and underserved parts of America”, I might be more sympathetic but this goal quickly disappears for more ‘corporatist’ objectives like ensuring that “Federal users can meet current and future mission requirements” and improving “the global competitiveness of United States terrestrial and space-related industries and augment(ing) the mission capabilities of Federal entities”.

Colombia’s Minister wants to allocate spectrum to minimize the digital divide. The White House wants a spectrum policy too but its goal seems just to be the 5G ‘moonshot’ and it is by no means clear that it is prepared to align other policies to make that happen.


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