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Words From Charlie - Foreword to The 2015 Roundtable on Spectrum Policy Report

Since the late-1970s wireless telephone communication has seen a steady progression in speed, bandwidth and services offered to the public. The next generation of wireless innovation, called 5G, promises a significant leap in what it will provide in capacity, speed and performance for wireless networks, massive machine communications and the Internet of Things. Many companies and organizations have already begun to create and test 5G technologies and have made commitments to early deployment. Yet, this shift in technology raises a number of legal and regulatory issues that will have to be resolved, both domestically and internationally, to realize the full potential of this technology.

To address these regulatory (and related) issues, the 2015 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS) met October 26-28, 2015 at the Aspen/Wye River campus on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Leading communications policy experts took a close look at the range of needs that 5G is intended to address, attempting to understand what the technological options are for meeting those needs. Participants then focused on defining the key policy issues raised by the move to 5G and recommended actions to address these concerns. Recommendations include:

  1. Improving Spectrum Availability and Efficiency. AIRS participants called for reducing the timeline for availability of federal spectrum; opening access to high frequency bands needed for 5G networks; a “Post Incentive Auction Incentive Auction;” increasing spectrum sharing with the federal government; speeding up development of service, licensing and tech rules; fast tracking license modifications; creating certainty in spectrum enforcement; and addressing receiver issues.
  1. Accelerating Development and Deployment of 5G Networks. Participants made specific recommendations to improve and streamline the process of 5G deployment; investing in 5G research, including R&D on cybersecurity; and establishing a wireless model city.
  1. Ways to Promote Wide Adoption of 5G Offerings. The final set of recommendations focused on actions to leverage Universal Service Funds to expand 5G adoption; providing federal funding for a BTOP II; and encouraging adoption of 5G networks within key vertical industry sectors.

In the advancement of improvements to mobile communications, policymakers will need to respond to the burgeoning increase in demand for mobile services with significant investments in research, building new and improved infrastructure, accessing and sharing new swaths of spectrum, and in expanding the accessibility of 5G technologies. The ideas and recommendations of this report highlight the technological possibilities and policy options to achieve the necessary improvements that 5G will offer to American society.

As in all our Communications and Society Program roundtables, the rapporteur, in this case, Richard Adler, aims to make the issues accessible to the lay reader and reflect the insights and recommendations of the participants at the conference. The group did not take votes and many of the recommendations stemmed from individual working groups that met during the Roundtable. Accordingly, not every recommendation or statement reflects the views of all attendees or their employers. Rather they are the rapporteur’s view of the general sense of the group.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the entities represented in this conference who have also contributed to the Communications and Society Program. They are AT&T, Cisco Systems, Google, Inc., Intel Corporation, LightSquared, Microsoft, New Street Research, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile USA, Inc., Vanu, Inc., Verizon Communications and The Walt Disney Company.

I also want to thank Richard Adler, our rapporteur, for his extensive and informative account of the conference discussions; and our participants for their contributions to these complicated topics. Finally, I want to thank Ian Smalley, Senior Project Manager, for producing the conference and Dominique Harrison and Kiahna Cassell for editing this report.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications and Society Program
The Aspen Institute
May 2016

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