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Verizons 5G lab is creating new and innovative ways to take advantage of the speed of 5G.
Josmar Taveras, USA TODAY

The Trump administration is looking to lead in the global race for 5G supremacy, with an eye on rural America. 

At the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to hold a 5G-spectrum auction on Dec. 10, further opening up the airwaves that can be deployed by commercial 5G wireless operators. This would be the largest spectrum auction in U.S. history and covers three radio frequency bands, all part of the government’s ongoing “5G Fast Plan” strategy.

The U.S. also plans to establish a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to build out high-speed broadband networks in underserved parts of the country over the next decade and connect up to 4 million homes and small businesses. The hope is that the fund, which will launch later this year, will help close the digital divide. 

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The White Home event was first reported by Axios.

By now, of course, most consumers may have heard about 5G but there is still lots of confusion and unanswered questions. Some of the key things to know:

What is 5G? 

The term 5G represents the wicked fast fifth generation of wireless that Verizon and AT&T are just starting to rolling out in select markets, with other U.S. wireless carriers to follow. Promised speeds are up to 100 times zippier than what is possible with on today’s prevalent 4G networks.

Such speeds, along with greater capacity and lower latency, or a measure of network responsiveness or lag, means that not only will 5G let you download a flick onto your phone in seconds, but will also fuel a variety of connected Internet of Things, or IoT devices, from household appliances in your home to driverless cars. 

If you buy into the vision – and Chairman Pai calls 5G a “game changer for mobile connectivity” – the networks will play a major role in remote medicine, virtual reality, manufacturing, agriculture, even entire “smart cities.”

Is the U.S. in the global 5G lead?

Pai would like you to believe so, but China, in particular, poses a major competitive threat., which is why the U.S. has put a bullseye on companies such as Huawei.

“The story of 5G is a success story, an American success story,” Pai says. He cautions, though, that “our early success is just that, early. We still need to do more and we will.”

5G networking equipment comes from major overseas-based industry players, notably Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson and, yes, the company the U.S. has accused of espionage, China’s Huawei.

“More funding for rural 5G broadband means two things: an overall faster roll out of 5G than was otherwise possible,” says telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics, but also “the ability to block small rural carriers from using Huawei equipment.”

Pai points to another measure of U.S. progress: recent reports of a spike in the number of online job posts related to 5G.

Wait, is the U.S. government running 5G? 

Pai maintains Uncle Sam will not be running things.

“I’ve been very consistent in my view that the markets not government is best positioned to drive innovation and investment in the wireless field,” he says. “I think the lesson from 4G is that American leadership was built and maintained because of the market-based approach. The wholesale network would be the wrong answer for American consumers.”

Analyst Entner agrees: “Private companies are better than the government to provide wireless services. State-run or even a government-blessed monopoly is something that not even socialist countries do today.”

What about reports 5G poses potential health risks? Is the FCC concerned?

Pai says the FCC takes the concerns seriously, but he downplays the risk.

“The nature of 5G networks will be very different from 4G, in part, because of the nature of the infrastructure. The 5G networks of the future will rely more on small cells that are relatively inconspicuous (and) operated at a much lower power than the traditional 4G cell tower infrastructure that we know today. From that perspective, at least, we are confident that the FCC’s limits, in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, which has the lead on these issues, will be safe.”

How soon can I get 5G?

The short answer is that it depends on where you live. Verizon’s initial launch focused on so-called fixed wireless solutions that are essentially alternatives to cable in the home. But both Verizon and AT&T are starting to launch mobile 5G, as well.

Verizon went live with its 5G network in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis earlier this month, ahead of schedule, though coverage doesn’t actually blanket those metropolitan areas.

AT&T has now turned on mobile 5G in parts of 19 cities, the latest seven of which are Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Nashville, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; San Diego; San Francisco; and San Jose, California.

Sprint goes live next month in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City, Missouri.

And Sprint’s would-be merger T-Mobile also plans to launch 5G this year, though it hasn’t yet specified in detail where or when that will happen.

Keep in mind that you will need a capable 5G phone to experience 5G even if you live or work in a coverage area, and such devices, for the most part, are only now starting to show up, though several have been announced.

Even at that be careful: Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 5G, for example, only will be capable of connecting to the mmWave 5G network, but it lacks the internals to tap into other flavors of 5G that are coming. thus preventing you from getting the full 5G experience.  

And iPhone fans must wait even longer. Apple has been mum on any future 5G-ready iPhones.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

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