In the $500B global race for 5G glory, the US struggles to defend its wireless title

The US lags behind China and South Korea, in the race to win 1st place in 5G infrastructure. And the economic impact for the winner will be massive.


April 17, 2018

We’re entering the homestretch of the global race for 5G wireless, and defending 4G champ America still trails behind China and South Korea in laying out the infrastructure for new high-speed data networks.

The first to cross the finish line will earn more than just bragging rights — namely, a $500B boost to their economy and millions of new jobs, according to a 2017 study by Accenture.

So why is 5G such a big deal? 

Let’s put it this way: To go faster, you could sell your ’87 Oldsmobile and lease a Prius — or you could repave every road and buy a new Tesla. Earlier generations delivered features — text (2G), internet (3G), video (4G) — but 5G provides high speeds and a whole new transmission system.

5G systems support 1k more devices per meter than 4G, using higher frequencies and secondary antennae to relay signals. It also eliminates the transmission inconsistencies and slowdowns caused by buildings, mountains, and crowds.

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But you don’t just revolutionize global connectivity overnight… 

You have to build massive networks of antennae for internet providers. Despite the recent growth of Chinese telecom company Huawei, US companies Qualcomm and Intel still lead global 5G-tech development — particularly after Singapore-based Broadcom’s attempted $117B takeover of Qualcomm was blocked.

But America lags in “5G readiness” due to reliance on private providers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — to build antenna infrastructure. China’s wireless providers, on the other hand, are streamlined by government mandate. 

And sure, we want 4-second HD downloads on the bus as much as the next person, but the stakes are higher than smooth streaming.

5G will attract businesses like moths to an iPhone

When America won the 4G race, it boosted domestic GDP by $100B and led to an 84% increase in wireless-industry employment. Now, the race to 5G is even tighter — and the potential losses even greater.

Companies in data-intensive industries like self-driving cars, IoT, and blockchain will likely relocate away from areas without 5G to stay competitive.

The FCC created a committee to offer incentives to carriers to develop 5G infrastructure last year — but it’s unclear whether this last-minute push will be enough to get the US across the finish line as an industry leader.

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