The idea of a government-owned 5G network seems to be anathema to commercial wireless network operators. But Julius Genachowski, who served as FCC chairman during President Obama’s first term, sees a need for the government to have 5G access.
Genachowski offered his views at an online 5G investor conference organized by MoffettNathanson Research earlier this month, during which Genachowski also offered his predictions for 5G policy under the upcoming Biden administration.
Government 5G Network Access
When the Department of Defense issued a request for information about a national 5G network last month, commercial operators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to drop that initiative. But according to a MoffettNathanson summary of the 5G conference released this week, Genachowski believes government and the military may need 5G network access to perform critical functions and respond to crises.
Genachowski noted, for example, that the military may need spectrum to train Air Force pilots at Air Force bases, which tend to be in remote locations. He added, though, that it would be inefficient to reserve the same spectrum for military use in urban and coastal areas, where it would see little or no use.
Accordingly, Genachowski sees spectrum sharing between government and commercial uses as the solution. Spectrum sharing already has been established to enable commercial users to share spectrum in the CBRS band with military users, and potentially the same technology could underlie the nationalized 5G network.
A key concern on the part of commercial operators, however, is that the DoD is considering making capacity on the national 5G network available to carriers and possibly other users on a wholesale basis—a possibility that would be in direct competition with commercial operators. Genachowski either did not address that concern or it simply was not noted in the MoffettNathanson summary.
Biden 5G Policy
As for Biden 5G policy, Genachowski sees the administration’s top priority being to make wired and wireless broadband available throughout the U.S. He predicted that any stimulus bill will have a significant broadband component.
Genachowski sees supply chain concerns relating to certain international suppliers – chiefly, Huawei and ZTE – as a genuine and bi-partisan issue, which suggests we may see few, if any, changes to rules put in place under the Trump administration aimed at removing equipment from those suppliers from U.S. communications networks.
Where we may see the biggest change in priorities from the Trump administration is with regard to Net Neutrality. While the Trump FCC largely dismantled Net Neutrality, the Biden administration may attempt to re-instate it. Certain court rulings are likely to limit the new FCC’s ability to implement Net Neutrality changes, however, which means that a legislative solution may be required – and that is unlikely to happen unless Democrats gain control of the Senate, Genachowski noted.
Post updated to clarify that Genachowski was not making a case for a nationalized 5G network but rather was explaining why a government 5G network might be needed.