From the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to Congress to the White House, the federal government has continued to push the importance of investment and innovation in fifth-generation (“5G”) wireless technology. This push bodes well for the many industries that rely on the Internet of Things (“IoT”), such as transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing—to name a few. As we have previously discussed, 5G deployment is critical for IoT because the IoT ecosystem will rely heavily on the increased speeds and capacity, as well as the reduced latency, that 5G technology will enable. Below we discuss the most recent pushes for 5G developments from federal leadership before surveying key industries in the IoT ecosystem that we expect to benefit from these efforts.

Recent Developments

The push for 5G is taking place across Washington, where officials are promoting the benefits of the new wireless technology and stressing the significance of the worldwide race to deployment.

One major federal driver of 5G developments is the FCC, which makes critical decisions about what portions of the radio spectrum will be available for various 5G wireless services. Indeed, the FCC has developed a comprehensive strategy to “Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology,” or the “5G FAST Plan.” The three-part 5G FAST Plan guides the FCC in increasing spectrum availability for 5G services, developing infrastructure policy, and modernizing outdated regulations. At an event at the White House on April 12, 2019, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced two major developments to further enable 5G networks.

First, Chairman Pai announced the largest spectrum auction in United States history—an auction of 3,400 megahertz of spectrum—which will begin on December 10, 2019. Such a vast swath of spectrum will go a long way to enabling build-out of 5G networks. Making so much spectrum available at once shows the government’s continued dedication to American progress in the race to 5G.

Second, Chairman Pai described a $20.4 billion “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” which will provide funding to deploy high-capacity infrastructure to rural areas. Such a fund could help bridge the digital divide for rural Americans, including by helping support infrastructure necessary for 5G technologies. This announcement comes after prior efforts aimed at encouraging 5G infrastructure investment, which have also played an important role in speeding up deployment efforts. As users continue to depend on mobile Internet access for work, leisure, and the use of connected devices, more Internet access will increase opportunities for rural Americans. However, more use can mean pushing the limits of network capacity, so such infrastructure projects are a necessary part of the 5G future.

Chairman Pai delivered his remarks alongside the President who applauded the FCC’s work and emphasized that “5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America’s prosperity and national security in the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill has been actively pushing an agenda on 5G. Members of Congress have introduced legislation to promote and protect the deployment of 5G in the United States including: (1) “Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2019” (S. 893), which would require the President to develop a whole-of-government domestic security strategy to ensure the safety of 5G wireless systems and infrastructure and to develop a strategy for U.S. resource and development leadership, and (2) “U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Act of 2019” (S. 987), which would require an assessment of security threats that may affect “5G networks” and “the Internet of Things.” Such measures show that, although 5G presents substantial opportunities, the networks must be protected, especially when it comes to certain applications such as critical infrastructure in connected cities. Congress has also held hearings to consider major barriers and opportunities associated with 5G deployment, including “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States” on February 6, 2019.

Applications of 5G to the Internet of Things

With so much activity on 5G, the possibilities to enable a variety of Internet connected devices likewise continue to multiply. Here are a few areas we are following:

First, smart transportation, powered in part by 5G, presents a number of opportunities for infrastructure development, public transportation, connected and automated vehicles (“CAVs”), and other smart city features, as we have previously explained. Everything from smart parking and traffic signals to public transit or autonomous rideshare and taxi services will require fast Internet access with low latency. Particularly for the “untethered” use-cases, 5G will be critical to that connectivity. Quality Internet access is crucial to CAVs, for example, which depend on split second decision-making to safely react to real-time traffic situations. With improved Internet access, CAVs will also be able to collect more data, which may provide crucial inputs on safety and traffic patterns, as well as consumer preferences.

Second, the burgeoning digital health space, which we also cover here, will continue to grow with the deployment of 5G. For instance, connected medical devices are improving the ways in which patients interact with their healthcare providers. IoT medical devices that monitor patients’ vital signs, including heart rate, enable faster channels for health care providers to collect and analyze patient data in real time. IoT wearable devices also empower patients to monitor the effects of their activities, such as number of steps, on their health. Furthermore, IoT has facilitated the development of ingestible sensors, which enter a patient’s body and send signals to an external sensor to report internal developments such as bacteria growth. Such technology also helps with medication management. With enhanced Internet speeds and lower latency, 5G deployment will continue to promote innovation in the ways that health care providers and individuals monitor and treat medical conditions.

Third, the manufacturing industry has already benefited significantly from the connectivity offered by IoT. In combination with artificial intelligence (“AI”) development, smart industrial equipment is helping reduce costs while improving efficiencies in manufacturing. As we have previously explained, the deployment of 5G will significantly advance AI, which will likely lead to additional advances in agriculture, energy development, and supply chain management.

We will continue to track 5G and IoT developments and provide updates here.

This blog is part of Covington’s IoT series. Other recent posts include: