CTA’s Gary Shapiro: State, Local Governments Lagging on 5G Adoption

Consumer Technology Association (CTA) President and CEO and New York Times best-selling author Gary Shapiro is one of the most powerful tech industry voices in Washington D.C., representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies in the nation’s capital. He has been repeatedly named one of the 100 most influential people in D.C. by Washington Life magazine and a Tech Titan by Washingtonian magazine.

More than a decade ago, Shapiro was one of the leading advocates for HDTV rollout. He co-founded and chaired the HDTV Model Station, served as a leader of the Advanced Television Test Center (ATTC) and is a charter inductee to the Academy of Digital Television Pioneers, receiving its highest award as the industry leader most influential in advancing HDTV.

Now, Shapiro has his sights focused on 5G and is actively lobbying Congress to support a private industry-led strategy to build infrastructure and implement service to position the United States as a clear leader in 5G innovation. Via Satellite sat down with Gary Shapiro for an interview about his views on 5G’s future shortly after her accepted an invitation to speak at the DC5G 2019 conference in November.

VIA SATELLITE: As president and CEO of the CTA, I’m sure you’re engaged in several conversations with telecom leaders about the future of 5G. Based on what you’re seeing and hearing, what is the most important milestone ahead for next-generation wireless rollout?

Shapiro: The biggest milestone is implementation. Some state and local regulators have been slow to adopt 5G because it requires investment in infrastructure. But these systems are relatively non-invasive, and in many cases require the installation of small cells. But we can’t afford to delay. We’re locked in a global race to 5G, and while we currently share first place with China, any hesitation could mean forfeiting that lead. We need bold federal leadership to obtain buy-in at the local and state levels. That’s why I’m excited to hear from other leaders on this issue. I’m eager to learn what strategies have worked and how to demonstrate to political leaders and the public how this technology will revolutionize our society and jumpstart our economy.

VIA SATELLITE: You helped lead the charge for HDTV service rollout in the early 2000s. How is 5G different? Or, are the challenges the same?

The stakes might be higher with 5G, since it impacts a wider range of industries, but the challenges are the same: international competition, regulatory roadblocks, and consumer confusion. Creating an innovation-friendly regulatory framework that allows for such massive transformation might seem like an impossible task, especially given this political climate, but we’ve done it before, and I’m confident we can do it again. The three winning factors in the transition to HDTV were strong leadership, shared goals and consumer education.

Sid Topol, who led a group of industry leaders known as the Advanced Television Committee (ATC), and Richard Wiley, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led the transition to HDTV through two key principles: consensus and communication. Topol established consensus at each ATC meeting, ensuring we were all on the same page before advancing the conversation, and Wiley kept the policymakers in the loop without inundating them with too many details.

Shared goals are also incredibly important. Unless we know what we want to get out of 5G, we won’t be able to craft a successful plan to implement it. That might sound obvious, but if you look at the HDTV transition, different nations had different goals. We needed to figure out what worked for us before we moved forward.

And we needed consumers not just to understand what HDTV was, but to want it in their homes and offices. Developing a persuasive communications strategy — to both the public and to government leaders — can make the difference between a rapid, relatively easy rollout and years of delay and uncertainty.

By keeping these principles in mind as we move forward, I’m confident we can win the 5G race and bring our nation to new levels of connectivity and prosperity.

VIA SATELLITE: Some describe 5G as more of an investment opportunity, rather than just a new service for businesses and consumers. Is this how you would describe 5G?

Shapiro: Absolutely. 5G will drive $12 trillion in economic activity by 2035, impacting every industry, from manufacturing, to retail, to agriculture, to education. Plus, unlike previous generations of wireless, 5G will be enterprise focused. That means the use-cases and specifications of these new networks are being designed around the needs of businesses and industry sectors. We’ll see connected factories, smart offices and health care facilities.

This shift represents a huge opportunity for businesses — and a huge challenge. We tend to think of our operations and industries in distinct, siloed verticals. 5G will require us to think in terms of comprehensive ecosystems. Should doctors receive specialized tech education so they can provide tele-health services? In a 5G world, these concepts will overlap, integrating these disparate parts into a unified, centralized whole. The companies that can adapt to this new framework will have a critical edge in the coming years. So, as with all major investments, the initial benefits may be limited, but the long-term opportunities are huge. Of course, consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries of these business innovations, enabling lightning-fast connectivity for video downloads, and broader uses such as Augmented Reality (AR)-enabled shopping and working.

VIA SATELLITE: Is 5G going to be limited to big cities and major industrial hubs?

Shapiro: Potentially. But, the biggest challenge with rural areas right now isn’t 5G rollout — it’s ensuring these communities have access to the internet in the first place. Most of us take the internet for granted, assuming everyone has access to it and the resources that come with it. That simply isn’t the case. In fact, many Americans have access to only 3G technology — or no “Gs” at all. According to the FCC, 19 million Americans don’t have broadband access. And this isn’t confined to the U.S. — countries around the world provide their citizens with varying levels of internet access. Our first step should be to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live and what they do, has access to the life-changing resources of the internet.

VIA SATELLITE: With that said, what’s the path forward for smaller businesses and towns, and those far from dense population areas?

Shapiro: One option is Microsoft’s Rural Airband Initiative, which calls for maximizing unused TV white space spectrum to bring broadband to underserved rural communities. Instead of using expensive fiber optic cables, Microsoft’s plan uses empty channels between TV stations to deliver connectivity to more than 20 million rural Americans at lower costs.

VIA SATELLITE: Does the U.S. Government have a unified building and rollout strategy for 5G? If not, who should take charge of the effort and lead the way?  

Shapiro: Ultimately, if we want to win the race to 5G, we need to let the private sector do what it does best: innovate. The FCC has done its best to give telecommunications companies the freedom they need to ease the transition and provide the best possible service. Some states have been leaders in passing legislation to encourage the siting of 5G infrastructure. Unfortunately, in other cases, state and local governments are lagging behind and dragging their feet on important deployment efforts. It’s up to us as industry leaders to stoke public enthusiasm for the 5G future so that government leaders can no longer afford to ignore or delay rollout.

Spectrum is also an important part of ensuring America’s leadership in 5G. Both the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) have been working to make more spectrum available for commercial use. The government needs to continue along this path, as spectrum is vital for companies to deploy the 5G innovations of the future.

VIA SATELLITE: How is CTA ushering in the 5G era for businesses and consumers? What resources are you providing for potential investors, customers, providers, etc.?

Shapiro: 5G has been a major theme for us this year. CES 2019 brought together stakeholders from across the 5G ecosystem, from transportation and virtual reality to digital health and smart cities. Highlights included keynotes from Verizon’s Hans Vestberg and ATT’s John Donovan — CEOs from America’s largest telecommunications companies who gave their vision of a 5G future. Getting everyone interested in this issue together is critical — that’s the whole point of this conference, after all — and we were glad to be able to host the conversation on an international scale.

And CTA’s Wireless Division and 5G Working Group — a collection of companies leading the way in 5G innovations — released a report on how 5G will impact industries, highlighting how these new levels of connectivity will empower entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. This builds on other 5G-related research CTA has done over the years, including a 2018 report called “5G U.S. Market Impact” and “Deployment and Development of 5G: Europe.” We hope this research will provide insight to business and policy leaders as they plan their way forward.

VIA SATELLITE: You are delivering the keynote address at the DC5G 2019 conference in November. Without giving too much away, what do you feel is the most important information that you have to share with DC5G attendees?

Shaprio: 5G is a platform technology for everything from digital health to augmented and virtual reality — a game-changer, enabling internet speeds 100 times faster than today’s networks. 5G won’t just eliminate buffering or give us quicker access to a larger library of content — it will transform the way we work, travel and even the way we live. Smart cities will help direct traffic flow, manage infrastructure repair projects and increase sustainability. And smart homes will thrive, thanks to an ecosystem of devices and appliances powered by the Internet of Things (IoT). My hope is to paint a picture of all the benefits we can expect from 5G in the coming years — and, just as importantly, all the hard work we’ll have to put in to ensure a successful transition.

VIA SATELLITE: Considering that you host one of the largest industry gatherings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), what do you learn by speaking at or attending tech-specific conferences like DC5G?

Shapiro: I appreciate the practical focus of many of the sessions. The nature of my role at the CTA means that I work at a 10,000-foot view, advocating for a variety of causes important to the tech industry. The nuts-and-bolts perspective offered during DC5G conference sessions will be invaluable to businesses of all kinds as they work to make the possibility of 5G a reality.

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