Too much focus on being number one in 5G

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today held a hearing on the deployment of 5G mobile wireless technology. 5G is a standard for the delivery of wireless broadband communications services which is increasingly dependent on small cell technology and promises to provide the speed and capacity considered necessary for delivering faster mobile services, transporting more data, and supporting the connectivity for the “internet of things.” Discussions about the technology and the services that could be rolled out on the platform have been occurring for the better part of the last decade and according to one witness during today’s hearing the technology is due to be deployed later this year in the United States.

All throughout today’s hearing there was the constant reference to being number one in the deployment of the infrastructure and in the design and production of devices that would use 5G. It was becoming nauseating primarily because none of the senators expressing the boom rah, rah of 5G superiority could explain why being number one was important or define what being number one meant. Only one senator, Shelley Moore-Capito, Republican of West Virginia, felt important to ask the panel of witnesses to put 5G’s role in economic growth in proper perspective. I am not one for giving politicians kudos, but Senator Moore-Capito came pretty close today.

In a nutshell, 5G is about devices and transmission facilities using radio frequencies more efficiently to send more data and send that data further. It is questionable whether 5G will significantly out do the current 4G standard. Personally, I have enough speed for my research and communications needs while understanding that there are other consumers who believe that more speed and data capacity is necessary or desirable for their needs. I get that. What I am inquiring into is the underlying philosophy that drives the need for being number one in this area.

I acknowledge the return to capital aspect. Think back to the mid-1980s when call waiting and call forwarding came into being. These services boiled down to engineers tinkering around with the electronic switches that provided voice services back in the day and saying, voila, we can do something extra here at the margin, and it will help bring in globs of revenue because at the margin the cost for providing these new services is near zero and we can set a price that brings in hundreds if not thousands of percent in contribution. Think of the origination of Post-Its where a bunch of engineers working another project decided to take paper waste and come up with a cool, simple creation.

While I honestly think Post-Its are cool, I can’t get excited about a country wanting to be number one in making new devices. Yes, markets will be happy about any additional revenues and profits these devices and facilities can generate for shareholders but in the end are we really getting innovation or just a shell game where nothing new, nothing above baseline noise is being created? Or is new information even appreciated or sought out anymore?