US Military Offers Airwaves for 5G Commercial Use

    12 August 2020

    The U.S. government has given the military permission to offer a big part of its airwaves to private companies to expand the country's 5G wireless network system. Technology experts see the decision as an effort to keep up with other countries - notably China - in the race to deploy nationwide 5G.

    5G is the next generation of high-speed wireless technology for the world. Experts say the system is expected to bring much higher internet speeds and reduce latency, or delays, in wireless processing operations.

    Currently, 5G service remains limited in the United States. And most wireless devices now in use do not work with 5G. U.S. sales of 5G smartphones made up less than 1 percent of all devices in 2019, a report by market research company NPD estimated.

    However, major U.S. wireless carriers are working to deploy the technology to as much of America as possible.

    A June report by the Congressional Research Service noted that the U.S. had less available airwave capacity for 5G development as other countries. It said this is because the U.S. military controls so many of the usable frequencies necessary for 5G technology.

    Workers install 5G telecommunications equipment on a T-Mobile tower in Seabrook, Texas, May 6, 2020.
    Workers install 5G telecommunications equipment on a T-Mobile tower in Seabrook, Texas, May 6, 2020.

    Mobile phones get signals from nearby radio transmitters that permit the devices to connect to frequencies to make calls and send data.

    The 5G system will use three different forms, or bands, of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is divided into high-band, mid-band and low-band.

    Much of the 5G investment in the U.S. has centered on the high-band frequency – the one offering the fastest data speeds. But tests have shown that these high-band waves do not travel far and are blocked by physical barriers. This makes the high-band a poor choice for areas outside of big American cities.

    China, by comparison, has been investing heavily in 5G networks using the less-costly middle and lower bands.

    The Trump administration decision, announced Monday, permits frequencies on the military's mid-band spectrum to be shared with telecommunication businesses.

    The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, will be able to auction 100 megahertz of this spectrum to major companies like Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, beginning in December 2021. The spectrum could be available for use as soon as mid-2022.

    U.S. officials say the mid-band is good for 5G because the waves can travel long distances at fast speeds, possibly connecting more U.S. areas to 5G networks.

    The mid-band spectrum currently supports important military operations such as air defense, missile and gunfire control, battlefield weapon locations and air traffic control, said Dana Deasy, chief information officer for the Department of Defense.

    Deasy noted concerns about sharing the military spectrum with private companies. But, he said the Department of Defense was creating a spectrum changeover plan that would limit any effects on military operations.

    Michael Kratsios is the Trump administration's chief technology officer. He told reporters the mid-band was identified "because it can be made available without sacrificing our nation's great military and national security capabilities."

    Michael O'Rielly, an FCC commissioner, sent President Donald Trump a letter in April urging him to help persuade the military to free some of its frequencies.

    O'Rielly wrote in the letter that the U.S. needed to act fast, "especially when competitors such as China can move" quickly to redirect frequencies using "all the resources and power" of its centralized, Communist system.

    The president of wireless industry group CTIA, Meredith Attwell Baker, welcomed the announcement in a statement. Opening up the mid-band spectrum for private operations "will enhance U.S. competitiveness" in the build out of 5G technology, Baker said.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and VOA News. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    capacity n. the ability to do something : a mental, emotional, or physical ability

    frequency n. the rate at which a sound wave or radio wave is repeated

    transmitter n. a piece of equipment used to send out radio signals

    spectrum n. the range of frequencies of sound waves

    auction n. a sale in which things are sold to the person who offers the most money

    enhance v. to increase of improve something