Trump administration and government regulators are expected to uncover a major press Friday afternoon at the White House to accelerate the deployment of high-speed, next-generation mobile data technology known as 5G.
Under the plan, the Federal Communications Commission will avoid a wide swing of high-frequency air waves for mobile use in what will be the biggest tire of the US wireless spectrum that is never auctioned. As much as 3.4 gigahertz of so-called "millimeter wave" spectrum can be sold to wireless carriers such as AT & T and Verizon in sales, which begin on December 10, according to FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
The FCC will also propose a $ 20 billion fund to expand broadband in rural America over the next decade and connect up to 4 million households and small businesses to high-speed Internet, Pai said. The so-called "Rural Digital Opportunity Fund" can start later this year after a period of public notice and comment.
"We'll get this program up as soon as we can, because we recognize the need to close the digital division in rural America," said Pai to journalists on a Friday morning conference call.
The two proposals reflect the most intensive efforts of the Trump era to close the so-called "digital divide" and get an edge in the global race to build a fully functioning, nationwide 5G network. Proponents say that the advances that 5G offers over 4G LTE will eventually enable mobile download speeds of up to 1000 megabits per second – about 100 times faster than current standard – and pave the way for new technologies such as self-driving cars and virtual reality.
Despite his focus on auctioning, Pai's critics say his 5G strategy has overlooked or even caused setbacks in other areas of politics.
"So far, administration's 5G intervention has done more harm than good," Jessica Rosenworcel, a democratic FCC commissioner, tweeted Friday. "From imposing tariffs on 5G equipment to alienate allies to 5G security to fall behind the rest of the world on critical midband spectrum, it has not yet offered a working plan for US leadership."
Friday's announcement comes in the face of growing competition from China and other fast-moving nations to develop 5G technology.
Whatever country succeeds in distributing 5G early and on a large scale, it will reap the benefits and shape of the world economy for many years, analysts say. For example, a US start-up could allow US firms to gain a dominant position in the growing smart device market and next-generation digital services.
Last week, South Korea became the first country to be traded on a nationwide 5G network that its three wireless operators announced the launch of its commercial service in 85 cities. In the United States, Verizon said last week that it had started offering its 5G service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis.
The upcoming airwaves auction isn't the first of the 5G time. Since November 2018, FCC has sold more than 1.5 GHz in spectrum licenses for 5G, according to agency figures. High frequency waves are considered ideal for 5G because they can reliably carry a lot of data, albeit at the expense of range and the ability to penetrate walls and other obstacles.
But millimeter waves are not the only type of airwaves suitable for 5G. Carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint have focused their 5G on medium-frequency or mid-band, airwaves, and have made it the focal point of a $ 26 billion merger argument. The mid-band spectrum offers less capacity than the higher band options, but can cover greater distances.
On Friday, Pai said he was committed to making air waves of all types a priority.
Pai was among a group of US officials who, at an industrial conference in February, pushed Allies to stop using wireless networking equipment from Chinese companies such as Huawei over fears that the equipment might allow Chinese eavesdropping. In the meetings, Trump's European partners largely recognized the risks, but disagreed with the US delegation on how to reduce the threat.