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The US is Falling Behind China in 5G Wireless, Guess Why

ATT and Verizon are trapped pawns in a feud with the FAA and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
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Secretary Pete

Trapped Pawns    

Two days ago AT&T and Verizon refused an FAA request to delay their 5G launch. 

In a Letter to Pete Buttigieg the phone companies had these comments, emphasis mine.

As you know, the U.S. Government’s auction of the C-band spectrum almost a year ago was heralded by this Administration as a major policy victory and one of the most successful auctions ever conducted in the United States. From a financial perspective, the auction raised more than $80 billion for the U.S. Treasury. Moreover, the U.S. Government had determined that the United States was “lagging behind China” and other countries in 5G deployment and that a major cause for this was “the lack of some carriers’ access to the radio frequencies best suited for 5G coverage.”  

AT&T and Verizon spent most of 2021 preparing to put the C-Band spectrum into service. In addition to the tens of billions of dollars we paid to the U.S. Government for the spectrum and the additional billions of dollars we paid to the satellite companies to enable the December 2021 availability of the spectrum, we have paid billions of dollars more to purchase the necessary equipment and lease space on towers. Thousands of our employees have worked non-stop for months to prepare our networks to utilize this spectrum. Thousands more have been trained to engage with customers as the new spectrum is put to use.  

 Amid all this activity, we were told for the first time late last year that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and parts of the aviation community had concerns about the timing of our use of C-Band under the FCC’s February 2020 order. 

As a result of this inaction, the U.S. Government approached AT&T and Verizon in November to ask us to delay using the C-Band spectrum in order to avoid potential disruption to the aviation industry, which had been in its own power to avoid.

 Now, on the evening of New Year’s Eve, just five days before the C-Band spectrum will be deployed, we received your letter asking us to take still more voluntary steps - to the detriment of our millions of consumer, business and government customers - to once again assist the aviation industry and the FAA after failing to resolve issues in that costly 30-day delay period, which we never considered to be an initial one.  

 At its core, your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years.  Agreeing to your proposal would not only be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of the due process and checks and balances carefully crafted in the structure of our democracy, but an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks that are every bit as essential to our country’s economic vitality, public safety and national interests as the airline industry.

 As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA. As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist. The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France. If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States, as we propose in the technical details attached to this letter. 

AT&T and Verizon Agree to New Delay of 5G Rollout

Yesterday AT&T and Verizon Agree to New Delay of 5G Rollout Emphasis mine.

AT&T said late Monday that the company had voluntarily agreed to an additional two-week delay, at the request of the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Verizon also said it had agreed to a two-week delay that would ensure the new service would go live in January.

The sudden turn of events on Monday came as the Federal Aviation Administration was preparing to soon issue flight restrictions that U.S. airlines worried would significantly disrupt air-travel and cargo shipments around the country, people familiar with the matter said.

Airlines for America, which represents major passenger and cargo carriers, had planned to ask a federal court to block the 5G rollout slated for Wednesday, people familiar with the matter said.

The threat of a federal court action caused ATT and Verizon to cave in to the request of the FAA and Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg’s 5G Crash Landing

With that backdrop, please consider Buttigieg’s 5G Crash Landing emphasis mine.

Biden Administration officials are crowing that they prevented a collision over 5G wireless spectrum between airlines and wireless carriers that had threatened to ground flights across America this week. But they created this problem, and the mess could endanger U.S. 5G leadership.

Usually spectrum interference involves transmissions on the same frequencies, not in different bands. Airplane radio altimeters that measure the distance from the ground occupy bands in the same region but are still a safe distance from C-band. Think the distance between Trenton, N.J., and New York City.

The FCC nonetheless included a 220 to 400 megahertz buffer between the two bands, which was more than twice as much as what engineers deemed sufficient to prevent signal interference. Nearly 40 countries operate 5G on C-band spectrum—many at higher power levels or in closer spectral proximity to airplane radio altimeters than what the FCC had proposed—with no instances of interference. Two Navy radars also operate in frequencies much closer to altimeters at power levels that are 10,000 times greater than 5G base stations without any reports of interference.

Politicians complain the U.S. is falling behind China in 5G, but dysfunctional government is a big reason.

Spectrum Wars

Flashback February 22, 2021

The Verge reports 5G In the US is Disappointing Now But Will Get Better

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To understand the complicated 5G situation in the US right now, you first need to know that there are low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies that carriers can use. Low-band is slower but offers widespread coverage. High-band, often called mmWave, is very fast but extremely limited in range. Mid-band sits in a sweet spot between the two, with good range and better-than-LTE speeds. 

If you were building a 5G network from scratch, you’d probably want a bunch of mid-band spectrum, right? The trouble is, spectrum is a limited resource. Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst at PCMag and a wealth of 5G knowledge, sums up part of the spectrum problem.

Our government did not make the right channels available to the carriers,” he says. “Verizon and AT&T have basically just been using leftover odds and ends of their 4G spectrum... putting the 5G encoding on these leftover bits and bobs so they can pop a 5G icon on the screen. And the performance is meaningless.”

The technology Verizon and AT&T are using to get nationwide 5G coverage is called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which allows 4G and 5G to coexist on the same spectrum. That helps carriers make the transition from one technology to the other, but it comes at a cost. Michael Thelander, president and founder of wireless industry research firm Signals Research Group, sums it up this way: “It’s kind of like having that super fast sports car and you’re stuck on the Santa Monica freeway. You can’t experience the full capabilities.”

Despite networks constantly waving their “5G Mission Accomplished” banners in TV commercials over the past year, 5G is very much still a work in progress. It’s going to get better, but how soon that happens for you depends on a lot of factors: which phone you have and what bands it supports, which network you’re on, where you are, and what you’re doing. It seems clear now that there never really was a “Race to 5G” — just technological progress as usual, which is often slow, confusing, and uneven. That’s a little bit harder to sell in a keynote or a commercial.

China Knows the Power of 5G. Why Doesn’t the U.S.?

Flashback July 17, 2021

Please consider the ForeignPolicy.Com article China Knows the Power of 5G. Why Doesn’t the U.S.?

5G is an easy tool to weaponize. As demand for it grows worldwide, citizens and infrastructure are becoming increasingly reliant on it. As of February, 131 countries announced plans to invest in 5G, which will be foundational for future internet technologies. Like the internet and social media, 5G promises greater access to information. But it also allows more data to be gathered than ever before, and any 5G-backed technology can expedite and expand the scope and scale of what people—and governments—can do with that information.

But that doesn’t mean 5G is inherently dangerous. Democracies have every reason to pursue the technological promise of 5G, as increased data capacity can make states more efficient and help governments deliver on services. Public utilities, for instance, could be made greener through automated regulation with 5G technology. Perhaps the greatest promise of 5G, though, is that it enables more people to access digital technologies. By delivering 5G to marginalized communities, which face a growing digital divide that especially affects women and rural areas, countries can increase opportunity for greater information flow, access to education tools, and other societal benefits.

The good news is that Biden’s B3W plan makes clear that he understands the importance of technology in shaping the norms of the international system to embrace human rights and putting decision-making in the hands of many stakeholders. But the clock is ticking.

But here we are with the third delay.

Hopefully, it's the last. But don't count on it. 

And certainly don't rule out the real threat that ATT and Verizon mentioned in their letter to Buttigieg.

"At its core, your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years."

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