White House, Pentagon Open Up Military Airwaves for 5G

August 11, 2020 Updated: August 11, 2020

The White House and the Department of Defense announced on Aug. 10 plans to auction off a major chunk of military airwaves for the expansion of 5G wireless technology in the United States.

The Federal Communications Commission will auction 100 megahertz in the midband range once service rules are adopted, according to the Pentagon.

The airwaves are currently used by the military’s radars in systems including missile and gunfire control, battlefield weapon locations, and air traffic control.

“5G will be as much as 100 times faster than current 4G networks. It will transform the way our citizens work, learn, communicate, and travel,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement announcing the auction.

“It will make American farms more productive, American manufacturing more competitive, and American health care better and more accessible. 5G networks will create astonishing and thrilling new opportunities for all Americans.”

The upcoming auction is the result of a 15-week effort initiated by the White House to expedite the development and expansion of 5G technology. In order to figure out if it would be possible to share the airwaves with the public sector, the Pentagon brought together 180 subject matter experts from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the office of the Secretary of Defense.

Top Trump administration officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of catching up with the Chinese communist regime in the race to deploy 5G. The military is also interested in the technology, with 5G listed as one of 11 modernization efforts for the U.S. military in the National Defense Strategy.

A June report by the Congressional Research Service said there aren’t as many frequencies available for 5G technology in the United States compared to other countries because the American military holds so much of the usable spectrum. Much of the investment in the United States has centered around the higher-frequency “millimeter wave” spectrum, which offers fast data speeds but won’t likely work as well outside urban areas. That’s in contrast to China, which has been investing in building out networks using the less-expensive lower and middle bands.

White House officials said on Aug. 10 that the Federal Communications Commission will be able to auction 100 megahertz of the military’s “mid-band” spectrum beginning in December 2021 for use as soon as mid-2022.

“This band has the ideal characteristics for 5G deployment—to travel long distances to ensure that all Americans have access to the network, while delivering ultra-fast and high performance that will power technologies in the future,” said Michael Kratsios, U.S. chief technology officer.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican who has been at odds with President Donald Trump’s administration on some issues, sent a letter to the president in April urging him to cut through red tape and get the Pentagon to give up some of its frequencies.

“The U.S. does not have the luxury of waiting years to provide spectrum for 5G services, especially when competitors such as China can move expeditiously to reassign spectrum frequencies by leveraging all the resources and power of their centralized, Communist regime,” O’Rielly wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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