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America’s most important infrastructure project is 5G mobile networks

  • While President Trump and Congress talk about upgrading America's aging infrastructure, a potentially more important upgrade loomsnext-generation wireless networks.
  • The flow of information across the country's mobile networks is becoming every bit as important as the flow of goods across our national highway system.
  • Upgrading US wireless network to 5G will have "massive impacts" on the economy.
  • We don't need the taxpayers to subsidize this critical infrastructure project, but we do need wise policy making to get the job done right and quickly.
Marcelo Claure speaking at eMerge Americas in Miami on June 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Marcelo Claure speaking at eMerge Americas in Miami on June 12, 2017.

I recently met with President Trump and other officials at the White House to discuss American leadership in emerging technology. As the President and Congress tackle the important work of reinvesting in America's aging physical infrastructure, a potentially more important infrastructure upgrade looms — the build out of next-generation wireless networks.

Upgrading American wireless networks to 5G technology will have massive impacts on the U.S. economy and its competitiveness in the decades ahead. Accenture recently predicted that the rollout of 5G in the U.S. will create three million American jobs and drive over $500 billion U.S. GDP growth. More importantly, the upgrading of these networks, which will be funded almost entirely by the private sector, will improve the lives of every American.

5G will perform up to ten times faster than the current 4G networks and enable a tremendous boost in data speed, meaning content that takes minutes to download now will be available in a matter of seconds. It will also be able to deliver ubiquitous connectivity with greater reliability and lower power consumption. The ability to connect billions of devices will drive new innovation and efficiencies, such as autonomous vehicle technology, and will lead to significant advances in the areas of health, energy and public safety. Entire new businesses will be created based on the improved network performance and the capabilities of Americans and their connected devices to process more and more information as they move around the country.

"The flow of information across the country's mobile networks is becoming every bit as important as the flow of goods across our national highway system."

Those of us at Sprint, as well as other wireless, cable and content companies are excited by the promise of this new technology, but it is not without challenges. Unlike today's networks that are built using large towers scattered every few miles, 5G requires the massive deployment of small cell technology to enable the network to handle the exponential growth of data transmission, which will need to be much denser. In a neighborhood block for example, there may be dozens of small, unobtrusive shoe-box sized cells mounted on street lights, buildings and other public infrastructure.

While the industry will fund hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment to upgrade these networks, public policy makers will play an important role in determining where, and how fast, this investment happens. States and local governments who seek to impose on small cells the permitting requirements of the legacy macro tower network will need to adapt to the density requirements of the new 5G infrastructure. Local government will need to restrict municipal fee demands for access to local infrastructure to cost-based rates, streamline the application and approval processes for use of local infrastructure, and impose strict time-frames for approval of applications to place 5G equipment. Today, it can take a year or more to get a permit but only an hour to install a small cell. This has to change.

Similarly, the United States government will play an important role. The new administration and the FCC will make important policy decisions that will impact competition and the industry's ability to deploy 5G far, wide and fast.

The flow of information across the country's mobile networks is becoming every bit as important as the flow of goods across our national highway system. As America focuses once again on investing in its aging infrastructure, the wireless industry stands ready to play its part by building a state of the art wireless network. We don't need the taxpayers to subsidize this critical infrastructure project, but we do need wise policy making to get the job done right and quickly in order to maintain America's leadership role in the age of information.

Commentary by Marcelo Claure, the president and CEO of Sprint. He also serves on the board of directors of SoftBank Group Corp and is also chairman of CTIA–The Wireless Association. In addition, he is Treasurer of My Brother's Keeper Alliance and a member of the 2016 Class of Henry Crown Fellows and the Aspen Global Leadership Network at the Aspen Institute. Follow him on Twitter @marceloclaure.

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