By Lucas Laursen
October 26, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a presidential memorandum Thursday calling on various government agencies to develop a “sustainable spectrum strategy.”

The memorandum says “it is imperative that America be first in fifth-generation (5G) wireless technologies.”

In practical terms, it requires executive departments and agencies to report on future spectrum requirements and it directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to report on emerging technology and provide recommendations for research and development priorities. The memorandum also calls for a National Spectrum Strategy within 270 days, including legislative and regulatory recommendations for increasing access to spectrum, making its management more flexible, and otherwise making the U.S. more competitive.

The White House may be laying the groundwork for federal support for more widespread connectivity, including 5G.

5G is the fifth-generation mobile telephone network standard, approved earlier this year, and consists of a higher-frequency signal that can carry more information faster to more devices than today’s 4G standard (albeit over shorter distances). While most spectrum management occurs behind the scenes, everyday consumers would feel any improvements in the proliferation of the 5G network, which the telecom industry has been touting as the gateway to the Internet of Things revolution.

The White House has shown a lot of interest in next-generation connectivity: it hosted an event on 5G last month and earlier this year was mulling whether to allow Sprint and T-Mobile to merge to accelerate 5G installation. A federal official even weighed a government-run national 5G network to ensure security in a leaked memo.

In addition to the navigating antitrust and information security challenges, the rollout of 5G will have to overcome basic physical problems. In a few neighborhood-scale pilots earlier this month, Verizon customers complained that connectivity depended on whether nearby buildings blocked the high-frequency signal. Perhaps a better tagline for the 5G-enabled Internet would be the Internet of Nearby Things.

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