TR Daily Industry Cites Need for Spectrum, Infrastructure Streamlining
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Industry Cites Need for Spectrum, Infrastructure Streamlining

LOS ANGELES – Wireless industry officials said today that carriers need additional spectrum and the streamlining of infrastructure deployment if the U.S. is to lead the world in 5G deployment.

During a keynote session this morning at the Mobile World Congress Americas here, CTIA President and Chief Executive Officer Meredith Attwell Baker praised actions that the FCC has taken, or plans to take, on the spectrum and infrastructure fronts to help carriers deploy 5G services. In particular, she noted progress that has been made since this conference was held in San Francisco a year ago (TR Daily, Sept. 12, 2017). And she cited industry efforts to deploy 5G.

“A year ago, when we were together in San Francisco, there were no 5G deployments planned. But our industry has responded decisively. The first 5G deployments are happening now in communities across the country. By this time next year, we will have more than 50 5G cities.”

“But we can't win this race alone. Policymakers are critical to our success,” she stressed.

“And it starts with spectrum. It always does. To unlock the full potential of 5G, we need hundreds of megahertz of new spectrum. Let's start with high-band. A year ago, the FCC had zero bands ready for auction. We now have five bands scheduled to be auctioned by the end of next year. Our real challenge is mid-band, which offers both coverage and capacity,” Ms. Baker said.

“But here again, what a difference nine months makes. We’ve seen real progress on mid-band,” Ms. Baker said. “At 3.4 [gigahertz], the Administration is studying commercial access. At 3.5 [GHz], the FCC is poised to finalize its rules. And the FCC identified the C-Band for future mobile use. Now, the trick is translating those efforts into a real auction schedule with real clearing targets. And fast. When we are back here in L.A. next year, I want to celebrate a mid-band auction schedule. With Chairman [Ajit] Pai and congressional leadership. I'm confident that we will,” Ms. Baker added.

But she added that “the most impactful thing” that government officials can do to ensure that the U.S. wins the race to 5G is to streamline the siting of infrastructure, saying, “We are competing with nations that approve new wireless sites in weeks, or even days.”

“Think about it this way: It took us 30 years to deploy 150 thousand towers. Tomorrow's 5G networks will require five times that amount in the next few years,” Ms. Baker suggested. “Winning the race to 5G is a national priority, and we need national help on siting to do it.”

She said that in the spring, “we got a great down payment with FCC action to modernize federal rules. Now, this month, we need the FCC to give clear direction to localities on procedures and fees for tomorrow's 5G networks.”

Marcelo Claure, executive chairman of Sprint Corp. and chairman of CTIA, also urged support of the draft item that the FCC plans to consider at its Sept. 26 meeting.

“The FCC draft order would control the cost and speed up the process for local government review of small cell deployment, and I urge that it be adopted,” Mr. Claure said.

But he said that there is only one way to ensure that the U.S. leads the world in 5G deployment: for the government to approve T-Mobile US, Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Sprint.

“I want to be very clear: The only way the U.S. remains the leader in 5G is by allowing Sprint and T-Mobile to merge because the combined company is the only U.S. player that has the necessary spectrum assets and the financial strength to build the world’s leading 5G network and allow the U.S. to continue its leadership position,” Mr. Claure said.

He also reiterated the carriers’ contentions that the merger would result in greater investment by the companies than if the deal wasn’t approved and that the combined company would better serve rural areas, increase jobs, and offer lower prices.

Mr. Claure, who is also chief operating officer of SoftBank Group Corp. and CEO of SoftBank Group International, also touted the potential of artificial intelligence in areas such as medical care, transportation, and media, when combined with the power of 5G networks.

Michael Sievert, president and COO of T-Mobile US, Inc., had been scheduled to speak at today’s keynote session as well but he didn’t.

In his keynote remarks, GSMA Director General Mats Granryd also stressed the need for a “supportive regulatory environment” for 5G deployment.

He said “we need an environment that provides [a] higher level of certainty and consistency,” “the timely release of harmonized spectrum with the right conditions,” rules to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure, “a level playing field” for “equivalent digital services,” and “the appropriate data protection and privacy rules going forward.”

Mr. Granryd also highlighted the expected bullish 5G deployment in the Americas, citing a GSMA report released today that forecasts that 20% of 5G connections deployed globally by 2025 will be in this region.

“Almost half of all mobile connections in North America are forecast to be running on 5G networks by 2025,” GSMA said, “suggesting that the region will migrate to 5G at a much faster rate than comparable markets in Europe and Asia.”

A separate GSMA report released today emphasized the benefits of 5G, AI, and the Internet of things in the Americas in areas such as intelligent transportation, entertainment, and drones.

During a one-on-one session with Mr. Granryd, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of GSMA and founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises, stressed the benefits of the mobile sector to the world economy and complained that governments imposed excessive taxes on the sector.

The industry is the “most heavily taxed industry in the world,” he said.

While the sector contributes as much as 5% of the world’s gross domestic product, it has become the “punching back for most of the regulators, finance ministers to go and grab those easy monies from this industry. That needs to change.”

He said GSMA has a role to play, adding, “We have to sensitize the regulators, we have to talk to the decision-makers.” He said that companies should get tax breaks for deploying infrastructure. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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