FCC chair says regulations, not tariffs, are biggest barrier to 5G

  • The FCC wants the U.S. to remain a wireless leader, but Chairman Ajit Pai says regulations are slowing down 5G deployment.
  • The tariff spat between China and the U.S. isn't the biggest obstacle, Pai says.
  • If China beats the U.S. to 5G adoption, Pai says, that will draw some investment and talent to their shores.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he believes 5G could be adopted sooner than the market thinks but that regulations are standing in the way.

Pai told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that while there is a lot of investment and innovation within the U.S. tech sector, regulatory processes are slowing down the deployment of 5G infrastructure. He said that in some cases, a one- or two-hour hardware installation could take up to two years to get regulatory approval.

Although the U.S. and China have been going back and forth slapping tariffs on exports, Pai said he doesn't think tariffs on network equipment are the biggest barrier to 5G.

"By far the biggest barrier is the domestic regulatory barriers that we face," Pai said Friday.

He explained that the U.S. wants to be the leader in 5G, as it was in 4G. 5G networks could theoretically be 10 times faster than 4G and further drive innovation in technology.

"We of course don't want to cede the mantle of wireless leadership to any other country," Pai said. "Our concern is that, of course, if China is the first mover in 5G that they will be able to draw some of that capital, some of that talent and ultimately some of that innovation to their shores."