The wireless industry has been on a journey to continuously improve networks since its inception two decades ago. The newest generation of wireless technology, 5G, is designed to enhance some of the current industrial technology rural America runs on.
As wireless technology continues to improve, the networks themselves will need more wireless spectrum. Additional wireless spectrum for 5G networks will enable farmers to monitor crops, inspect soil conditions, and measure carbon levels at faster and more reliable speeds than ever before.
But what does that mean for rural residents?
5G Will Revolutionize Rural America
5G technology delivers fast download speeds and quick connection times in areas currently deploying 5G networks. For rural areas, everything from education to healthcare will be revolutionized once 5G networks are deployed and accessible to rural users.
For remote learners in rural communities, 5G mobile broadband helps close connectivity gaps so students can connect to educational resources anywhere.
In healthcare, professionals use 5G to monitor diagnostics, manage hospital inventory, and even support robot-assisted surgery. This is game-changing in rural areas where patients are driving as much as 2 hours to access quality healthcare, then are sometimes unable to return to that provider for follow-up appointments or necessary ongoing therapies.
With 5G networks, the innovations are exciting, and the opportunities are endless. We know what’s next for rural residents with 5G: dependable precision agriculture data collection, consistent access to first-class learning materials and practices, and improved healthcare.
But how do we get there and make these exciting 5G innovations possible?
Replenishing the Spectrum Pipeline
To keep America competitive, we should start by replenishing America’s pipeline of wireless spectrum.
Think of spectrum as communications signals that power everything from mobile phones to satellite TV. Spectrum also supports 5G networks, delivering profound social, economic, and environmental benefits to small and rural communities.
Unfortunately, the United States is out of step with our competitors when it comes to spectrum policy. Simply put, America’s pipeline of wireless spectrum is running out, and we risk losing out on cutting-edge innovations unless we fill the gaps.
A new report from Accenture found that the commercial wireless industry holds just 5% of lower mid-band spectrum – compared to 61% held by the government.
Mid-band spectrum is best for deploying 5G technology and innovation across rural America. To do so, the wireless industry must play a more active role, and government should repurpose valuable spectrum so wireless assets are managed more efficiently.
Replenishing the spectrum pipeline begins by identifying spectrum bands that can be repurposed from government use for commercial 5G and used to their full potential.
One place to look is the 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band. This band’s large coverage range makes it ideal for supporting 5G and fixed wireless access in rural areas.
Another reason is mid-band spectrum boasts speeds similar to broadband internet in some instances, which makes it a convenient solution for rural residents without home internet.
Closing the Rural Digital Divide is Within Reach
Delivering fiber internet service to the home is the gold standard of connectivity, but deploying fiber across the U.S. will take time. No one should have to settle for sub-par service or sit outside a local library simply to access the internet.
Luckily, 5G has an immediate role to play in filling connectivity gaps. Accenture estimates that industry’s 5G fixed wireless deployments could serve nearly half of rural households in a much shorter timeframe.
Necessary tools to close the rural digital divide are out there. Millions of households, thousands of businesses, and countless entrepreneurs living in small and rural communities across America are ready to innovate, but they need wireless tools to get started.
5G does not come without challenges. But regardless of your thoughts on 5G, it will be a component in closing the rural digital divide along with other solutions.
We’re calling on policymakers to replenish the spectrum pipeline so 5G can unlock next-generation innovations for rural America.