The Future of 5G: Not There Yet, But Getting Closer, Officials Say

Jian Fan/istockphoto

There are several areas where 5G capabilities can improve, including bandwidth potential.

For several years now, the telecommunications industry has been promoting 5G and its immense potential to turbocharge business and citizen activities. During the Nextgov 5G Futures virtual conference on Dec. 2, a couple of experts discussed where 5G technology is today and unresolved issues it raises in the national security arena.

The National Science Foundation has been deeply involved in understanding the technical and implementation issues raised during 5G development. Dr. Thyaga Nandagopal, the acting Deputy Division Director of the Computer and Network Systems Division, part of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, acknowledged 5G has yet to meet expectations.

“You start out to do something not knowing how hard it’s going to be,” he said, but “come along with us on this journey. We’ll get you there. But even if you only get halfway there you’ve still got” something better than it was.

For example, he said, “in 2015 or 2016, I went on a road trip and was disconnected most of the trip. I just did a road trip and my kids were connected to Netflix the whole time.”

There are three primary areas where 5G promises improvements—higher bandwidths, very low latencies, and much greater density of connections (how many user devices could be handled). Nandagopal outlined the progress made in each area, how they are connected, and what is left to do.

Bandwidth is about spectrum. “The more spectrum you have, the more you can use,” he said. “The FCC has been working to free up spectrum.” While 5G has been deployed in many urban areas, it is not yet available across the country.

The goal has been to get to a 10x gain in bandwidth. “I think we’re easily at 5x,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re at one gigabyte per second yet. Maybe in some places, [but] it’s getting close.”

Nandagopal described latency—the lag between sending data and receiving it—as “the linchpin for the killer applications we’d like to see.” He said it may take five to six years before this gets reduced to 10 milliseconds. “I think we’re getting to 20 milliseconds, down from 100, but we need the 10 for real-time” applications such as virtual reality. While VR is available now, the lag can make users queasy because of the gap, he noted. “Coming from 100 to 20 was mostly engineering … but [from 20 to 10] requires a new way of thinking.”

This is where the relationship between bandwidth and latency is important. “You can always improve latency by compromising on throughput,” he pointed out.

As for the density of connections, “there the story is like latency. We’ve made a lot of progress,” Nandagopal said. “The real practical implication is power … Once we are able to solve that, we’re going to see that so-called explosion [of new applications], because that will support a smart monitoring system across a city, [for instance] and provide feedback on processing information. To solve that we need to solve the power issue. We can have devices today that survive for 10 years, but we want devices that will last for 30 or 40 years.”

While Nandagopal may be sanguine about solving the technical hurdles, the national security obstacles are just as real but much more amorphous.

The national security implications of 5G “are really a lot broader than normal national security implications,” said Laura Bate, Senior Director, Task Force 3, Cyberspace Solarium Commission. “There are three different categories.”

First are “security risks, simply compromised communications systems. There’s the more nefarious side, deliberately introducing a vulnerability;” since communications is a critical infrastructure, a deliberate attack can have “watershed effects,” such as finding ways to sustain the financial sector, where communications play an integral role.

And there are more abstract security issues. “We’re talking about the proliferation of surveillance systems,” Bate said. “In the big picture, the future of the internet drives in the direction of what these [5G] technologies look like.

The second national security concern is “the availability of 5G components [and] the supply chain issues here,” she said. “A huge amount of the production of semiconductors comes from East Asia–it could be cut off. The same for China.”

The third national security concern is the ongoing competitiveness of U.S. telecom companies and manufacturers of key components, Bate said. “If trusted manufacturers of 5G components are driven out of the market, we have even less availability … the U.S. government has an incentive to ensure our 5G [providers] can continue.”

She referenced the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) Act, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, but not yet funded. “There’s a lot going on there legislatively that we’re hoping to see move forward this year.”

She said the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA, would fund the CHIPS Act. “There [also] are provisions in USICA that would promote standards in training, partner engagement, things like that. The problem is, how do you promote” the values of the United States “without it being seen as political? It should be based on sound science.”

Bate suggested that companies who play a central role in the U.S. economy should be supporting open, interoperable standards and not supporting totalitarianism.

She cited China’s recent actions in different international organizations that play a role in setting those standards. When the 5G technology standards were being set in 2016, “Lenovo voted for [one standard promoted by the U.S.] and got a huge amount of criticism for being disloyal to China,” she said. “In the next round it voted for the Chinese proposal for the sake of patriotism and protecting its national interests.”

Bate said one potential risk from this kind of nationalistic action is that “China, or any country, can patent a technology, push that as the standard, reap the profits,” and dominate competitors, including American companies. “You get this sort of cyclical tendency” that is self-reinforcing.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.