Time for California to build a 5G network

By Kish Rajan

Here in California, we like to think of ourselves as being on the cutting-edge of all things technology. After all, California is home to Silicon Valley and we are the birthplace of companies like Google, Apple and Tesla.

But in one crucial area, we are at a high risk of falling behind. States like Virginia, Florida and Texas could all have state-wide 5G networks before California does.

And that’s a problem because 5G has the potential to unlock enormous economic growth, help grow new businesses and jobs, improve transportation, save energy, and greatly improve our infrastructure.

Right now, most mobile devices work on a 4G network where signals are bounced off of large cell phone towers than can a mile or more apart. This works fine. But as anyone who’s ever lost coverage or waited with growing frustration for a video to download knows, we need to upgrade these systems to keep pace with the growing demand.

4G has the potential to hit maximum speeds of 1 Gbps, but because of interference from buildings, it rarely hits those speeds. A 5G network has the potential to move data 10 times faster. Yes, that’s going to be good for consumers who want to enjoy quick downloads, but it’s so much more than that. 5G will power the infrastructure necessary to make our cities smarter.

According to a report from Accenture, new 5G-based technologies will enable intelligent transportation and energy systems – easing traffic gridlock and improving the performance of the electrical grid. These improvements alone have the potential to create $160 billion in benefits and savings. We’re already seeing the possibilities for this kind of technology in San Diego with sensors in street lights collecting data that will track air quality and improve traffic flow and parking helping the city save $2.5 million per year. Imagine that kind of innovation on a state-wide scale.

Then there’s the economic benefits of building out the network itself. Accenture predicts that 5G could result in $275 billion in investments, creating 3 million new jobs nationally and growing GDP by $500 billion.

But we’re not going to see any of that potential come to fruition if we constrain the emergence of 5G by subjecting it to the old approach to 4G regulations.

Right now, it can take up to two years to approve a permit for a cell-phone tower. But a 5G network requires 10 to 100 times more small cell antennas than a 4G network. And then different municipalities have different requirements for cell-phone antenna permits.

These old regulations make it almost impossible to build out a vibrant 5G network that could benefit everyone in our state.

That’s why states like Virginia have put new rules in place to make it easier and faster to build a 5G network. Governor Terry McAuliffe just signed a bill that creates a state-wide permit to place cell antennas on lamp posts and utility poles. Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana and Iowa are all looking at similar bills.

It’s time for California to catch up.

We have our own 5G bill making its way through the state Legislature. SB 649 will lay the ground work for a 5G network. It’s crucial that it moves quickly through the legislative process and that Gov. Jerry Brown signs it in to law. The longer we wait, the further we fall behind.

California has never taken a back seat to any other state when it comes to innovation. We must not start now. Let’s unleash our full potential and remind the country and the world what we’re made of.

Kish Rajan is chief evangelist at CALinnovates and former director of Gov. Jerry Brown’s GOBiz initiative. He can be contacted at [email protected]

This piece was originally published in the Monterey Herald.