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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the Broadband for All Seminar, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden

NTIA’s Role in a 5G World
June 25, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, and thank you for including me in this timely discussion of broadband and 5G. I’m happy to be here and look forward to sharing a bit of the U.S. vision for a 5G future and hearing about other countries’ plans.

For those of you not familiar with NTIA, we are part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the agency principally responsible for advising the President of the United States on telecommunications and information policy issues.  Spectrum management and policy is a core focus for NTIA – over half of our agency’s workforce is devoted to this critical work.

NTIA manages the U.S. government’s use of radiofrequency spectrum and works to expand the use of spectrum by all users. We do this in collaboration with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which manages non-federal government use of spectrum, including commercial and state and local government.

Our other missions include expanding broadband access and adoption, and working to ensure that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth. We also represent U.S. interests before consensus-based organizations like ICANN and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

To that end, we are working with our colleagues at the Department of State to finalize U.S. positions for the upcoming ITU’s Plenipotentiary conference at the end of this year.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting our candidate to lead the ITU’s Development Sector, Doreen Bogdan-Martin.  Doreen is a former NTIA employee who has spent the last 25 years working at the ITU Secretariat in Geneva to advance telecommunications policy around the globe.  She is incredibly qualified and I am proud to support her candidacy.  As many of you know, if she is elected, Doreen would be the first woman to hold any of the ITU’s elected offices in the Union’s 153-year history.

We are gathering these two days around the notion of “Broadband for All.”  Broadband access is delivered in multiple ways – through fixed, terrestrial wireless and satellite connections – the latter of which is particularly crucial in developing nations and markets.

But I believe 5G will be a true game changer, promising to enable entirely new and re-imagined services and devices that will take advantage of the technology’s high-speed, high capacity, and low latency attributes.

The GSMA estimates that 5G could account for as many as 1.2 billion connections by 2025.  With the networks potentially covering one-third of the world’s population by then, 5G will be more than just the latest generation of wireless technology.  It will usher in an era of pervasive, reliable, flexible communications with applications we can only just begin to imagine.

One of 5G’s most exciting attributes is the impact it is likely to have on vertical industries, ranging from automotive and other transportation modes, to manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, healthcare, utilities and others. We are only at the drawing board in guessing what might happen when 5G fully intersects with artificial intelligence and other tech innovations.

5G is developing hand in hand with the broad expansion of digital connectivity.  According to GSMA Intelligence, there may be 25 billion Internet of Things, or IoT, connections by 2025, not all of them requiring 5G.

IoT and 5G also are associated with widespread “smart city” or “digital city” efforts.  This is about more than just ensuring everyone within a city is connected.  It is using the power of ubiquitous connectivity to bring more efficiency to city resources, and to enhance the quality of life for citizens.

Applications can range from connected street lights and smog sensors, to police cameras and traffic lights that communicate directly with cars.  Smart cities could reduce energy usage, traffic congestion and fuel costs, and assist public safety. 

Looking at the big picture, the rapid innovation in how we connect to each other, and to and among things, is creating unparalleled opportunities across the globe.

It also brings its share of challenges that hopefully all of us in this room and beyond can work together to try to overcome. This includes collaboration on the global policy frameworks and industry-led standards that will generally define how 5G unfolds now and for the foreseeable future.

5G and U.S. Spectrum Policy

The United States, through private industry activity and government policy, has made 5G development a priority goal.

U.S. President Donald Trump is a champion of the move to 5G, appreciating its importance to economic development and opportunity, and its importance to our national security strategy.

Security must be a first step in the planning, development and deployment of these new technologies, to protect emerging 5G networks against the ever growing cyber and other security threats.

Cybersecurity in fact is a core issue for NTIA. For example, we are leading a multistakeholder process to develop a broad framework for improving the resilience of the Internet ecosystem, and on July 19 we’re kicking off a separate multistakeholder engagement to improve software component transparency. You will hear more about these efforts in coming months.

It is no surprise to anyone here that ensuring sufficient spectrum is available to support 5G is critical to its development. Many of us are working within our countries to bring spectrum to our domestic markets, responding to industry calls for access to low, mid and high band frequencies.

At the same time, we are working together to support global spectrum allocations so our industries can prosper through economies of scale and the lowering of barriers to deploying 5G technology.

One of the demands of 5G is for wide bandwidths of spectrum, ideally at least 100 MHz channels.  This allows networks to carry much more traffic per user – potentially gigabits of throughput instead of megabits. Right now, wide bandwidths really are only available at high frequencies.  For this reason, the U.S. took a leading role in looking at making spectrum available in the millimeter-wave range. 

NTIA has worked with the FCC in its Spectrum Frontiers proceeding to address numerous bands above 24 GHz.  Since 2016, the effort has begun to bear fruit and many gigahertz of spectrum are being made available in the U.S. for licensed and unlicensed terrestrial use – while, importantly, at the same time ensuring spectrum is available for innovative satellite uses and to support important government missions.

These bands are also teed up for consideration at the World Radiocommunication Conference next year, WRC-19, which I will come back to shortly. 

We know, however, that 5G will not be constrained to high frequency spectrum bands.  In fact, the industry worked hard to ensure the initial Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G standards support 5G in numerous low and mid-range bands as well.  As a result, our efforts to make additional spectrum available must keep pace. 

NTIA views our international spectrum work as important to help shape the global environment for 5G and other aspects of wireless communications.  These global multi-stakeholder and standards-setting forums directly impact the development of new technologies.

As part of our efforts, NTIA is responsible for coordinating the U.S. federal government agencies’ participation in preparations for WRC-19. This involves coordinating with some extremely large agencies, such as NASA and the Department of Defense, which are among the largest and most technologically sophisticated users of spectrum in the world.

I am very optimistic that as a global spectrum regulatory community, we will be able to come together at WRC-19 and produce good outcomes that accommodate and balance diverse spectrum requirements, including for terrestrial and space-based systems.

It is also important that we look at the impact of the overall continued increase in spectrum utilization. An interesting and potentially troubling issue is whether introducing so many wirelessly connected devices will cause widespread spectrum interference.

To get at the heart of this problem, NTIA is drawing upon the talent of engineers and scientists in our Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, or ITS, which is dedicated to telecommunications research.  ITS is collaborating with a sister agency and the University of Colorado on an IoT test bed project, which will examine this exact issue stemming from the proliferation of wirelessly connected devices.

Apart from spectrum, 5G deployments also are dependent on fair and efficient regulatory models for deploying the necessary infrastructure to support 5G. I think this is a challenge faced around the world, as communities seek to balance demand for communications services with an obligation to look after the environmental, aesthetic and other impacts.

Fortunately, the proliferation of “small cells” that will continue or even increase with 5G helps. Small cells are the compact and low-powered base stations that work in conjunction with traditional cell towers, or macro cells. Many small cells are installed on utility poles, buildings, lamp posts and other existing infrastructure with little visual impact.  We need to have our regulatory processes reflect this changing reality of wireless network architecture. This is a really important issue for 5G.

Expanding Broadband Access

Another tremendously important issue facing us is captured in the theme of this conference: Broadband for All. While many of us take for granted the online connectivity resting in the palm of our hands, there are parts of the world’s biggest cities, and whole swaths of rural areas still lacking access to broadband service.

In a February 2018 report, the OECD found that despite advances in recent years, gaps between urban and rural areas remain in many of the OECD countries. Population, geography and the existence of legacy telephone infrastructure were among the most important factors affecting availability.

This holds true for the United States, where over 24 million Americans still lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps. Rural and tribal areas continue to lag behind urban areas in mobile broadband deployment, according to the FCC. Approximately 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands still lack access to mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps.

The Trump administration early on identified this broadband gap as a priority goal for the nation. In April 2017, the President issued an executive order establishing the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity “to ensure the informed exercise of regulatory authority that impacts agriculture and rural communities.” 

And in January, President Trump issued an Executive Order and Presidential Memo to make federal assets available to support rural broadband deployment, and to streamline federal permitting processes by developing uniform agency applications and contract forms.

NTIA is working with a broad range of stakeholders and other federal agencies to develop solutions across our government to address broadband availability. We are looking at existing resources we can use, including identifying federal assets that could be put to use, and making sure that federal programs are aligned to eliminate duplication of effort.

We know that in order to connect Americans, we need accurate and reliable data to properly inform broadband investment decisions. I imagine this is true in your nations as well. The U.S. Congress tasked NTIA to work with the FCC to  assess broadband nationwide. NTIA has long been a leader in collecting and analyzing broadband adoption and usage data and it is in area in which we will continue to focus.

For example, we recently began soliciting input from the public on ways to improve broadband mapping, so we can get a better idea of where truly unserved Americans live.

As we look to the future, it is clear that  broadband increasingly means a wireless connection. Whether it’s the promise of 5G to deliver dramatic increases in speeds and latency; the unlicensed technologies we rely on in our homes, businesses, and communities; or satellites helping to bring remote regions online, wireless technologies already are transforming lives every single day. Yet I truly believe the best is still to come.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.