Trump Orders National Spectrum Policy as Industry Races to 5G

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered a national spectrum policy to ensure the U.S. maintains leadership in advanced wireless communications, as providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. prioritize fast mobile connections.

Trump signed a memorandum directing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to work with agencies and industry to develop a policy that will increase access to airwaves for all users, Michael Kratsios, a White House technology adviser, said in a call with reporters.

Commercial providers are racing to develop 5G networks that provide faster links than the current fourth-generation wireless service. The idea is that dramatically new speeds -- 10 or even 100 times faster than current service -- will eventually help support self-driving cars, smart appliances and even surgical robots. Verizon began service in four cities this month, and AT&T says it’s weeks away from initial deployment.

The service is commercially unproven, but companies are expected to spend as much as $200 billion a year to develop the technology. The mobile industry has cast the effort as a “race to 5G” against competitors including China and South Korea.

The Trump administration in January roiled communications policy with a draft proposal urging heavy federal involvement in the next generation of fast mobile networks, raising objections about taking over what has been a privately led effort. A formal proposal didn’t emerge. The draft went unmentioned by White House officials in Thursday’s call, except in response to a question. The administration sees progress toward 5G as being led by the private sector, said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump on Thursday also revoked two presidential memos on spectrum management issued by the Obama administration, Kratsios said. Those documents offered guidance on ways to share airwaves. They were revoked because 5G is a different technology with different needs, and the Trump administration will retain a focus on sharing airwaves, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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