Seems it has been a bit slow on the 5G race bandwagon of late. So I guess it was time for another non-tech type to decide that it was time to reignite the subject and weigh in on the race to 5G.
Out of the bowels of the Washington political scene comes another narrative about the 5G race. This time it was a column from The Hill. In case you are not familiar with it, The Hill is, according to their website, “a top U.S. political website, read by the White House and more lawmakers than any other site – vital for policy, politics and election campaigns.” Wikipedia describes it as “nonpartisan reporting on the inner workings of Congress and the nexus of politics and business.”
In a recent issue it penned a narrative that likened losing the race to 5G to having lost the race to the moon. If I recall, winning the race to the moon did little to change the global economic picture. And, from a purely myopic perspective, the United States was not the first country to land something on the moon. It was Russia’s Luna 2, in 1959, followed by the Luna 9 in 1966. Then the United States landed on the moon about six months later with the Surveyor 1. We were the first country to walk on the moon.
So, who won the moon race? Was it the first surface contact? The first boots on the ground? In the end, nobody. Both Russia and the United States were pretty much in lock-step all the way. What I am getting at with this is while, technically, Russia won the moon race, the United States upped the technology an order of magnitude by walking on it. So who really won? However, like any other jump in technology, or industry, or science, it opens the door for advancement. That advancement is what generates revenue. In the end, we ended up partners, anyway.
This is the perfect analogy for 5G. It matters little who will win the 5G race. What is important is who puts the boots down to make it happen and how the partnerships develop along the way.
One of the things that make the race mentality ridiculous is that the term race has certain connotations. Winning a marathon, for example, offers a clear definitive reward. So do horse races, car races, sports races. Races have places, and places have defined fixed prizes. With 5G the win is much murkier. Does the winner of the 5G race get a gold medal? Lucrative endorsement contracts? Exclusive lock-in’s with vendors, customers, and users? Not hardly. It is a technological platform that will enable the next generation of wireless and it will develop at the pace the various global regions choose – with or without a “winner.” The money will be there regardless of who “wins” and it will be spread across hundreds of industries, technologies and platforms.
The talking heads claim there is tons of money to be made by being first. The Hill’s column claims the following: “As a result of our [the U.S.] leadership in 4G, in 2016 we increased GDP by $100 billion, created more jobs, lowered consumer costs, and enabled the app industry. Pioneering 4G allowed American industry to reap roughly $125 billion in revenue that could have gone elsewhere.” The operative word here is “could” So it could have gone elsewhere. But it did not.
Why? Because there was no race to 4G. it was an evolutionary track that followed 3G. That money was made because we developed the technology (along with everyone else). Even if we did not have it and someone else did, we still would have generated such income because we would have built out the system, regardless, as we developed the technology. And whether other countries did it earlier would have made little, or no difference.
The same holds true for 5G. we will build it out. It will generate income, revenue, jobs and improve the GDP (although that metric means less and less in today’s fluid economy). It will not matter if China, India, Korea, Europe, whomever, has 5G first. Each region will develop their 5G infrastructure and it will generate growth in many segments of the economy, across multinationals at whatever pace they set. Besides, everybody already claims to have it, anyway!
The Hill states “5G promises to have an even larger economic impact, as the technology is projected to enable more than $12 trillion in global economic output by 2035. Here at home, when the entire 5G value chain is considered, some expect the benefits to top $3.5 trillion, support 22 million jobs, and contribute the equivalent of the entire economy of India to real American global GDP.”
Is this the United States’ share? The world’s GDP? China? Korea? Where did they get these numbers? Some actuarial tables buried in an economists file cabinet? Such numbers mean nothing without real data behind them that we do not have. So far all of this number spinning is simply conjecture based on any number of metrics and projections under any number of scenarios that may come to pass.
The reality is, and this is something that everyone tends to forget, that we have one heck of a wireline telecom infrastructure in the United States. One of the reasons that so many other nations are on the fast track is because they do not. For example, from The Hill column, it is stated that the United States has 0.4 cellular sites per 10 square miles where China has 5.3. That number certainly would be different if China had developed the equivalent wireline telecom infrastructure, as exists in the United States, over the years.
When one looks at the present telecom infrastructure in both countries, the United States is the Cadillac of telecom where China is barely the mid-size. And they are way ahead of places like Africa, who are the subcompacts. For China, and much of the rest of the world, to have any real telecom infrastructure, wireless is the obvious answer and that is why they are going all out to make 5G happen.
One thing The Hill column got right is that “5G isn’t just a numbers game. It promises to open the world for smart cities, driverless cars, improved health care and a fully-realized Internet of things [that] will revolutionize entire industries.” But 5G will hardly do that by itself. Do not forget that technological advancements across multitudes of platforms is what will make 5G all that. For countries with underdeveloped telecom infrastructures, that is the brass ring. And many countries see that as a level playing field for competing in a 21st-century global economy.
Well, another “no 5G race” column under my belt. Thanks for reading and, as the holidays approach, wishing my readers all the best.