5G taking baby steps around the world

Jun 21, 2016, 2:52 PM EDT
Cell tower. (Source: Razor512/flickr)
Cell tower. (Source: Razor512/flickr)

As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission prepares to vote on rules to identify and open spectrum for the next generation of wireless communication (5G), other countries, and in particular individual companies, are hoping to get a slice of the pie. 

Reuters reports that a Samsung executive has let on that the company is hoping to become a global "top-three player" in 5G after its failed bets on other wireless infrastructure. It is eying the U.S. in particular in hopes of moving into 5G mobile markets (thus far, it has trailed competitors Nokia, Huawei, and Ericsson). The company’s home base of South Korea is moving ahead with 5G as well, and Samsung will not be left behind in the new generation of telecom. The company is targeting more than 10 trillion won ($8.6 billion) in annual sales of 5G equipment by 2022, according to the report.

Samsung’s decision to look to the U.S. comes at an opportune time. The FCC announced on Monday that it will vote on ways to disseminate spectrum for 5G this July. The Commission will vote on a proposal to help identify and free up the wireless spectrum that can be used to power 5G networks. CNET quotes FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

"Turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future. Instead, we will make ample spectrum available and then rely on a private sector-led process for producing technical standards best suited for those frequencies and use cases."

In the meanwhile, the U.S.’s top two wireless companies, AT&T and Verizon, have started hedging their bets for 5G. Both have announced their respective headstarts, at different points over the past year, in the 5G industry — boasts that seems premature given the lack of allocated spectrum in the U.S.

Furthermore, the spectrum game in the U.S. is particularly dicey given the deep resources of the bigger companies involved, which have sparked controversy as they have used smaller companies to get discounts on spectrum. (Ahem, Dish Networks.)

European countries have struggled to parse out spectrum as well for different reasons. Big auctions have failed in the past. China’s government has said it is working on 5G, and will make the network commercially available in 2020. Analysts have urged the Indian government to join the game as 5G proliferates around the world. Magnus Ewerbring, chief technology officer for the APAC region at Ericsson, said this week that India would do well to anticipate and allocate its spectrum for 5G, as 2020 is not too far away.

Ewerbring says that, in 2021, there will be 150 million 5G subscriptions in the world. Regulatory action could not come at a better time, especially as the private sector is clearly champing at the bit.