5G and the New Rules of Wireless: Part 1
Nowadays, we hear a lot about 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology. It is depicted as the route to the internet of things (IoT), autonomous automobiles, internet virtual reality, battlefield AI, and new security models.
Trump administration advisor General Robert Spalding wrote a memo warning: “If the Chinese dominate 5G, what lies ahead is mayhem and mass surveillance.”
Spalding will soon publish a book entitled How China Took Over While the US Elite Slept. He declares: “China gains at expense of democracies everywhere.”
Spalding’s influence is all over the Trump Administration, and his jeremiads about the Chinese and 5G are widespread on YouTube.
I don’t think he understands the details or the implications of 5G or the nature of the “threat,” which comes not from China but green Luddites in the United States.
The Real Threat to 5G
In March 1993, I wrote an essay for ForbesASAP, the technology supplement of Forbes magazine that I helped start with Rich Karlgaard, now Forbes publisher.
In it, I expounded the “New Rules of Wireless,” arguably predicting the iPhone. “As portable as your watch and as personal as your wallet, it will recognize speech and navigate streets, collect your news and your mail” and so forth. But more importantly, I predicted the essentials of 5G.
For all the talk about spectrum allocations and machinations, there is only one crucial issue in wireless and 5G. That is whether the US continues to allocate exclusive bands of spectrum to the winners of auctions.
If Spalding wants something to complain about, these spectrum auctions impose a major tax, now totaling close to $150 billion, on US telecom that is not exacted in China. It reserves the next generation for the incumbent leviathans with obsolescent technology and suppresses entrepreneurial progress and invention in the field.
The result is an obsessive drive by companies such as AT&T and Verizon to harvest the existing spectrum by “going Hollywood” and producing “content,” as if anyone would choose phone companies to make their movies.
To play in the auctions, for example, AT&T sold off its Western Electric telecom equipment operations, leaving the field to Huawei and other foreign manufacturers. Verizon bought the Huffington Post as if you want to get your news from a phone company.
In my article in 1993 and prior speeches, I predicted that in the future most connections would migrate to the unlicensed bands of the spectrum that are not subject to auction and exclusive use.
Called the ISM bands for industrial, scientific and medical applications, these unlicensed bands also accommodate Wi-Fi. Today, perhaps half of all phone and data calls go not through the licensed bands of spectrum but the ISM channels such as Wi-Fi.
Spectrum is in any way naturally scarce — “resembling beachfront property” in the FCC auctioneering spiel. The industry would move “up spectrum” toward the boundless realms of microwave and even infra-red. Steady improvement of their mastery of “smart radios” and software-defined radios will allow users everywhere to share the spectrum as they do in Wi-Fi.
This incidentally was the view of David Medved, the late physicist father of Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan and US talk-show host Michael whom I am accompanying on a tour through Israel this week.
The crucial issue in 5G is whether enough unlicensed spectrum is reserved so that the massive move away from the auctioned spectrum continues. The most important allocations of this spectrum come not through the auctions but the allocation of bands up to 300 gigahertz microwaves and even infrared.
David Medved was a veteran of fiber optic companies that use infrared light in crystalline silica strands that would be so long and so pure you could see through 40 miles of it.
His company Jolt used similar infrared through the air for campus and building to building links. He also explored the use of ultraviolet light for battlefield communications.
The spectrum is not limited; it is essentially infinite. The allocation of specific bands is decelerating the advance of software-defined smart radios that can survey the spectrum and send signals to unused air.
The chief threat of 5G to the US is not China but our regulators who are intoxicated by auction revenues and are stultifying American telecom.
The move to unlicensed bands will continue under 5G and the auctions will end.
I’ll dive deeper into this in tomorrow’s Daily Prophecy…
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy