A new $1.3 billion spending bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday includes bipartisan provisions meant to facilitate and consequently accelerate 5G deployment in the United States as part of the Ray Baum Act. Named in honor of the long-time American lawyer, lobbyist, and Energy & Commerce director who passed away early last month, the legislation reauthorizes the Federal Communications Commission for the first time in nearly three decades, which Chairman Ajit Pai identified as a notable gesture that reaffirms the agency’s jurisdiction and long-term mission.
The act allows for new spectrum auctions the FCC has been planning to start conducting in the second half of the year in order to provide network operators in the country with more millimeter-wave spectrum meant to be used for 5G buildouts. The federal regulator was unable to legally hold a new auction beforehand due to a number of outdated and conflicting laws related to the upfront payments bidders must deposit prior to the actual event taking place. That state of affairs caused some friction among the FCC’s commissioners in recent months, with the two Democratic representatives previously claiming any further delays will see the U.S. lose its leadership in the global 5G race to South Korea, Japan, or China. With the matter now being resolved through a federal intervention, the FCC is free to hold mmWave spectrum auctions and provide wireless carriers with the holdings necessary for large-scale 5G deployment.
Verizon and AT&T are both expected to start aggressively pursuing 5G buildouts in the second half of the year, though the former will initially be largely focused on fixed wireless access solutions. 5G-ready smartphones aren’t expected to be sold stateside until the first quarter of 2019, with Sprint recently suggesting the first major manufacturer to offer such devices will be Samsung. The Galaxy S10 lineup is widely expected to be compatible with the next generation of wireless networks and is likely to be announced at MWC 2019, about a year after the Galaxy S9 series debuted. Large-scale 5G buildouts in the U.S. should be conducted throughout the next year, with all four national carriers already pledging to offer countrywide coverage by 2020.