- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Internet is fast and is about to get even faster, with users being able to download full-length movies in eight seconds about three years from today.

Tech industry leaders say that as early as 2019, Americans could surf the web using the new 5G network, whose “high band spectrum” will provide better, faster service.

“What you get with the upper bands is … instantaneous downloads,” says Paula Boyd, Microsoft’s director of government and regulatory affairs. “We’re going to move away from streaming to very quick downloads of the entire content.”

Ms. Boyd was part of a panel of industry leaders discussing the future of the Internet last week at The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center.

A rapid 5G network would shatter typical Wi-Fi speeds, but the implications of 5G reach much farther than just faster Netflix. 5G connectivity to “the Internet of things” would mean more smart technology in everyday objects.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh my god, I’ll be able to stream 4k video,’” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “It may also be lots and lots of other devices in my house talking to each other fairly constantly because they’re inside and near each other. My lamp will be able to talk to my … electric meter and will dim.”

Education and medicine also could be revolutionized as a result of new wireless capabilities.

“The idea that you could take virtual reality technology and in a moment take children in their classroom and bring them to the Roman Coliseum, or to allow medical students to be performing virtual surgeries … is profound,” said Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA —The Wireless Association.

The day before the panel discussion, Tom Wheeler, head of the Federal Communications Commission, had outlined a plan to have the FCC vote on 5G wireless implementation in order to apply the new technology as soon as possible.

“If the commission approves my proposal next month, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications,” Mr. Wheeler said. “And that’s damn important because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate.”

Panel members echoed his comments, expressing a desire for the U.S. to continue being a role model in the tech industry.

“We were able to really leapfrog other countries and show leadership and development and adoption of LTE,” Mr. Bergmann said. “We’ve been accruing the benefits from that investment and that leadership over the last six years.”

LTE, or long-term evolution, is the standard for high-speed wireless telecommunications.

Mr. Bergmann said the jump to LTE, the last major wireless advancement, boosted American business and image, adding almost $30 million to GDP and setting the United States as the “hub” for the apps industry.

However, the FCC still has to work out some kinks in the technology before going nationwide, like whether the high-powered waves will be harmful and how 5G wireless would work with satellites.

“If you try to operate these frequencies at the same level that we operate conventional cellular communications, you will literally fry people’s eyes out,” Mr. Feld said of the “high bands” used for 5G. “When we actually get up to these bands, it really would be sticking your head in a microwave if we use the same power.”

Jennifer Manner, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Echo Star Communications, said the FCC must ensure that the use of high-band frequencies doesn’t interrupt signals from satellites used by the military.

“[The commission] needs to address aggregated interference … [It could affect] the DoD, Homeland Security,” Ms. Manner said.

Noting concerns about physical harm and national security, the panel seemed at ease about the prospects of developing a safe 5G network soon — even one that’s usable on airplanes.

“Along with others, we have looked at the interference concerns, and given the short range of transmissions and given the insulation of the design of the aircraft, we are anticipating that there isn’t going to be harmful interference into radio astronomy,” said Ms. Boyd.

Mr. Feld said that the future of connectivity depends on taking a chance on 5G, in spite of glitches that could arise as a result of the network’s deployment.

“There is some need for certainty, but at the same time, we cannot be prisoners of the past when it comes to this new 5G area,” Mr. Feld said.

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